As the Class 4A Division I No. 6 Brownwood Lions continue their quest for their first district championship since 2010, the toughest portion of their schedule awaits. The gauntlet, as Brownwood second-year head coach Sammy Burnett has labeled it, begins at Stephenville Friday night in the 80th Battle of 377, with games against No. 1 La Vega and China Spring to follow.
Kickoff between the undefeated Lions (7-0, 1-0) — who peaked at No. 5 in last week's Harris Ratings Weekly 4A Division I poll — and Stephenville (4-3, 1-1) — which slipped from No. 10 to No. 13 — is slated for 7 p.m. at the reconstructed Tarleton Memorial Stadium.
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 42-10 loss to No. 1 La Vega, while the Lions' bye fell last week.
“Stephenville is a worthy opponent, they lost games to Argyle, Waco La Vega and Midlothian Heritage, so they're going to be one of the best teams we play all year,” Burnett said. “This is one more opportunity for our kids to see how good they can be and how good they really are. They've prepared, worked hard and I believe they will receive the reward of all that.”
Coming off their bye, Burnett feels the Lions have gotten any after effects out of their system during the week.
“Monday was a little sluggish coming off that open week,” Burnett said. “I challenged our kids after that and the last few days have probably been the best practices we've had across the board. It gives me goosebumps. They've listened and they understand the importance of what they're doing and I think they're ready to go out and prove to everyone they're legit.”
Brownwood enters the contest having not allowed a point in more than a month. The Lions, who have given up 32 points all year, are in the midst of a string of three straight shutouts. Wichita Falls Rider, in a 37-15 loss at Gordon Wood Stadium on Sept. 20, was the last opponent to light up the scoreboard against the Lions.
Brownwood is also allowing just 200.1 total yards — 109.5 rushing and 90.6 passing — per game, with 14 takeaways, including four returned for touchdowns.
Standouts defensively for the Lions include Rowdee Gregory (52 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT), Kris Hobbs (51 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 FRs), Cooper Swanzy (51 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 FR), Khyren Deal (44 tackles), Ezequiel Ibarra (41 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL), Landon Harris (41 tackles, 1 sack, 0.5 TFL, 1 FR), Damion Jones (35 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 INT), Theo Bryant (28 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FRs), Royshad Henderson (23 tackles, 1 TFL), Zach Strong (23 tackles, 3 INTs), A.J. McCarty (18 tackles, 0.5 for loss) and Tyler Tiner (16 tackles, 3.5 TFL).
Stephenville counters with an offense that is producing 21 points and 376 yards — 203 passing and 173 rushing — per game.
Kade Renfro has thrown for 897 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions, while Cole Stanley has passed for 142 yards with one scoring toss and one pick. On the ground, Kason Phillips leads the charge with 502 yards and two scores. Eduardo Campos (143 yards), Caden Cowan (130 yards) and Trace Morrison (105 yards) have also been used out of the backfield. Leading receivers include Gavin Rountree (23-443, 3 TDs), Morrison (17-349, TDs), Phillips (17-160, 3 TDs), James Traweek (10-139, TD), Stanley (9-104, TD) and Cowan (8-103, TD).
“Renfro is their starting quarterback, he's about 6-5, 195 and he can sling it,” Burnett said. “Stanley is a leftie, a shorter guy, and was their starting quarterback last year before he blew out his knee. Both guys are very capable in the RPO stuff they like to run.
“Their running back, Kason Phillips, he's not as fast as the kid they had last year but he's a very powerful runner, a bigger kid. They're doing a really good up front with Logan Davis and Ricardo Chavez, who are 6-4, 265 and 6-2, 265, so they've got some big beef up front. They're going to try and control the line scrimmage, but I think we have the antidote for that with Bryant, Ibarra and Hobbs.”
On the flip side, the Lions are generating 37 points and 391 yards — 225 rushing and 166 passing — per game, with only one turnover all season, behind the line of Bryant, Ethan Pesina, Brad Robinson, Jimi Brown and Bradley Farrow, who is returning from injury this week.
Quarterback Drew Huff has connected on 60 of 93 passes for 1,103 yards with nine touchdowns while adding 406 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Reece Rodgers (950 yards, 14 TDs) leads the ground game with Henderson (199 yards, 1 TD) chipping in as well. Primary receiving threats are McCarty (28-627, 6 TDs), Dane Johnson (11-123, TD), Strong (9-145, TD), Isyah Campos (6-156, 2 TDs) and Rodgers (5-57).
The Stephenville defense is yielding 21 points per outing with 10 takeaways and 52 tackles for loss. The Yellow Jackets posted their second shutout of the season in the 5-4A Division I opener against China Spring, while yielding a season-high 42 points to La Vega last week.
Quentin Walker leads the way with 66 tackles and seven for loss trailed by Colton Accomazzo (63 tackles, 10 for loss, 3.5 sacks), Morrison (42 tackles), Austin Stidham (31 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks), Kreed Averhoff (26 tackles) and Daniel Luna (26 tackles, 7 for loss), and Traweek (23 tackles, 3 interceptions).
“They do a lot of stemming and stunting so we've really focused on blitz pick ups, that kind of stuff,” Burnett said. “They have a great scheme and are very good. Luna, Caleb Smith and Zach Ramos are all big kids that play well.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 7-point favorite.