The Class 4A Division I No. 6 Brownwood Lions completed an undefeated run through their pre-district schedule and look to keep their flawless record intact as the winless Gatesville Hornets invade Gordon Wood Stadium in the District 5-4A Division I opener for both squads.
Kickoff between Brownwood (6-0, 0-0) and Gatesville (0-6, 0-0) is slated for 7 p.m. Friday.
With what on paper is considered a mismatch, Brownwood second-year head coach Sammy Burnett has cautioned the Lions of the dangers the district opener could present.
“Gatesville is 0-6 right now but really they're 0-0,” Burnett said in regard to the clean slate the start of district presents. “They're still good, their kids still go out there and play the game. This is the biggest game we play all year Friday night. It's the most important. I told the kids this is the biggest game of your life Friday night, it doesn't matter what the records show. We have to go out there and kick off our district right and win a game I feel we should win against a group of kids that are going to do everything in their power to be respected and get in the win column.”
Gatesville, under first year head coach Luke Howard, is coming off a 45-6 loss to Glen Rose last week and the Hornets have been outscored 339-83 on the season. Other defeats have come at the hands of Midlothian Heritage (63-19), Robinson (55-3), Cameron Yoe (68-34), Waco Connally (49-21) and Lampasas (59-0).
“Luke Howard has done a good job trying to instill his program, his work ethic and the way he thinks things should be done,” Burnett said. “Sometimes parents and kids buck that and he'll have those issues for his first year or so and then hopefully they'll buy into what he's doing and hopefully Gatesville will be a stronger program.”
Against Glen Rose last week, the Hornets finished with 152 yards of total offense — 120 rushing and 32 passing — while allowing 397 yards — 275 on the ground and 122 through the air. Quarterback Wesley Brown completed 7 of 17 passes for 32 yards, while leading rushers included Logan Edwards (54 yards), Tyler Godfrey (38 yards), Hayden Mooney (15 yards, 1 TD) and Jason DeLong (3-9).
“Gatesville is led by their offensive and defensive line,” Burnett said. “That is without a doubt the strength of their team. Stephen Fitzer is an offensive and defensive starter. He's not a big, tall kid but man he's strong. Gatesville always has strong kids and they're always big up front. Jaiden Gomez and Carson Norwood are big strong guys and Luke Gregory does a great job at tight end and defensive end.
“Their quarterback, Wesley Brown, is a sophomore and does a very good job of throwing the football. They're a different team than they were last year. They're trips and spread and two-back like we are instead of being extremely multiple in their formations, being under center and running a lot of three-back stuff. They've got some great concepts in their passing game. Their issues at times have been turnovers and busted assignments just like you would expect from a first-year program.
“Defensively, their linebackers are Hayden Mooney, Zach Bates and Taylor Lee and they all do a good job trying to play the run. If they're lacking in an area on defense it would be their secondary. They're a 4-3, man team. If they play that on us it will be a chance to knock the rust off our passing game.”
Behind the front line of Ethan Pesina, Theo Bryant, Brad Robinson, Jimi Brown and Tyler Tiner, the Lion offense enters the contest averaging 35 points and 371 yards — 215 rushing and 156 passing — per outing. Brownwood committed its first turnover of the season last week in a 35-0 victory over Conroe Grand Oaks.
Quarterback Drew Huff has completed 50 of 78 passes for 921 yards with six touchdowns while rushing for 392 yards and seven more scores. Reece Rodgers anchors the ground game with 735 yards and 11 touchdowns while Royshad Henderson has contributed 144 yards. Receiving threats include A.J. McCarty (25-520, 5 TDs), Zach Strong (7-121), Isyah Campos (6-156, 2 TDs), Dane Johnson (5-33) and Rodgers (4-55).
“I could care less about scoring 50, 60, 70 points on people so when we get up, knowing how well our defense is playing, and we're able to grind the ball out on the ground and get first downs, we're going to do it,” Burnett said. “At the same time, we haven't thrown the ball very much the last few games when I saw multiple opportunities to throw it, so we may be a hair rusty. It would be good for us to get out there and sling it around. Gatesville's strong suit is their run stopping capability, but a lot of people have thrown the ball on them. This gives us another opportunity to sharpen our skills and be where we need to be when we start playing the elite. I think we'll put up some more points on the board through the air this week because we'll have a little more focus on it.”
The defense has stolen the show for the Lions thus far in 2019 as Brownwood allows just 5 points and 218 yards per game — 116 rushing and 102 passing — with 13 takeaways, including four returned for touchdowns.
Standouts include Rowdee Gregory (45 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT), Kris Hobbs
(45 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 FRs), Cooper Swanzy (43 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 FR), Landon Harris (36 tackles, 1 sack, 0.5 TFL, 1 FR), Ezequiel Ibarra (35 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL), Khyren Deal (34 tackles), Damion Jones (29 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 INT), Bryant (22 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR), Henderson (22 tackles, 1 TFL), Strong (21 tackles, 3 INTs), Tiner (16 tackles, 3.5 TFL) and McCarty (15 tackles, 0.5 for loss).
“Defense wins championships, I firmly believe that, and we need to fly around and overwhelm them on defense,” Burnett said. “It takes a lot of pressure off the offense when you know the other team is not going to score many points. We have to have the tenacity and hunger to fly around and play great defense, pressure their quarterback, and take away their will to run the ball or pass it.”
There is no line for the game according to Harris Ratings Weekly. Brownwood is ranked 52 points higher than Gatesville this week.