STEPHENVILLE — The 80th Battle of 377 resulted in the 48th victory in the series for the No. 6 Brownwood Lions, who began their closing gauntlet of the District 5-4A Division I schedule, as second-year head coach Sammy Burnett has termed it, with a 38-22 road triumph over the rival Stephenville Yellow Jackets Friday night.
The Lions (8-0, 2-0) remained undefeated on the season while handing Stephenville (4-4, 1-2) a second consecutive district defeat. Brownwood's win also snapped a two-game win streak for Stephenville in the series, which the Lions lead 48-30-2 all-time.
“It's huge for us No. 1 because we got licked by them last year,” said Burnett, whose record as Brownwood head coach now stands at 12-6. “It's a rivalry game, it's bragging rights for the year and we can stick our chests out because we beat the Yellow Jackets like they beat us last year. I'm proud the kids got that victory because of the months and months of hard work they've put in.”
Brownwood's latest victory was perhaps its most challenging of the season. The Lions were clinging to a 24-16 lead late in the third period when a handful of plays shifted the momentum in favor of the visitors in maroon and white.
After the Lions sputtered offensively out of the gate to start the third period, the Yellow Jackets had marched to the Brownwood 23. Facing a fourth-and-1, Stephenville quarterback Kade Renfro attempted to lunge forward for the first down, which he had down twice earlier for Yellow Jacket touchdowns. This time, however, the Brownwood defense rose to the challenge and stuffed the play, giving the ball back to the offense.
Following a pair of incompletions and an illegal procedure penalty — one of nine flags for 92 yards against Brownwood — the Lions' second-half offense struggles appeared as though they might continue. But on third-and-15 from the Brownwood 18, quarterback Drew Huff, who had thrown for just 29 yards to that point, connected with A.J. McCarty on a slant. McCarty then weaved his way through the Stephenville defense to the first-down marker, where there he found a crease and outran the Yellow Jackets to the end zone for an 82-yard touchdown, which boosted the Brownwood advantage to 31-16 with 1:32 left in the third.
“We had a play called before that and we had a penalty, and I saw their adjustment so we threw a sluggo to A.J.,” Burnett said. “Drew put the ball in the right spot, A.J. made a great play and made a couple of guys miss and took it up the sideline and that was huge. Being near our end zone I think that changed the tempo of the third quarter when we had a couple of mistakes that gave them a little momentum. Our kids never quit and I was proud of them. That was the most pivotal point in the game and we could have folded but we didn't.”
McCarty, who finished with two catches for 87 yards, said of the play, “The whole game I wanted the ball and they finally gave it to me. I knew this might be one of my last chances to get it so I made the best of the opportunity I could and scored on it.”
Stephenville's ensuing drive reached the Brownwood 39 where again the Yellow Jackets faced fourth-and-short with 11:47 to go. This time, Renfro attempted to scramble and find an open receiver, but after dropping back 15 yards Damion Jones was able to make the sack to give Brownwood the ball at the Stephenville 46.
“Our defense played well, all the linemen did their jobs, the DBs did their jobs and when those guys are doing their jobs I can make some good plays,” Jones said. “The sack on fourth down, all the DBs were covering and he had nowhere to go.”
The Lions traveled down to the Stephenville 19, where they faced fourth-and-7 with 7:57 to go. There, Brownwood unveiled a new wrinkle in the playbook as Landon Harris snuck out of the backfield and Huff — who completed 6 of 9 passes for 130 yards — tossed his second touchdown as Harris beat the Stephenville defense to the end zone for a 38-16 lead, essentially icing the contest.
“We've been working on that and no one's seen us throw to the sniffer,” Burnett said. “We have a couple more of those wrinkles but I felt like that was an opportune time to run it. They thought we were going to try and pound it in there and Landon ran the route perfectly and Drew saw it perfectly. He couldn't have run his route better. If he would have kept on going straight he would have ran right into coverage but he found a soft spot and Drew hit him and he finished the play. I was extremely pleased with the execution.”
While the passing game helped clinched the victory for Brownwood, the rushing attack established the lead. The Lions, who finished with 457 yards of total offense, rushed for 327 yards on 36 carries — an average of 9.1 yards per tote. Reece Rodgers again led the charge with 172 yards and three touchdowns, while Huff chipped in 155 yards on eight carries and helped set up multiple touchdowns.
“Reece challenged himself because there was a lot of scuttle that he wouldn't get 50 yards,” Burnett said. “It was another one those great nights where he was dynamic, and I was happy to see that for him.
“And then you had Drew and some of the plays he made. He got us down there close on a pass play they had covered and he flushed the pocket and showed his running skills. I'm pleased that he's become a dual threat which is still surprising because we didn't know he had that in him.”
Defensively, the Lions surrendered a season-high 22 points along with 305 total yards — 208 passing and 97 rushing. At halftime, however, Brownwood owned a 21-10 advantage and had given up just 122 yards at the break. The Lions also forced their 15th turnover of the season as Zach Strong's fourth interception of the year turned away Stephenville with 6:22 left, trailing by 22 points.
“I played undisciplined and forgot about my read, but I just saw him staring down the post and I just decided to go see if I could grab it and I did,” Strong said of the interception.
Burnett added, “Stephenville's a good football team and we knew they were going to score points, we just had to get into our groove and make the adjustments we needed to make. I thought we made some great second-half adjustments and then in the second half when they started doing more of their RPO game we were able to adjust to that. I thought Coach (David) Jones, Coach (Brett) Mouser, Coach (Derrick) Stacks, Coach (Darren) Bailey and Coach (Jesse) Villalobos did a great job. Hats off to the defense getting Stephenville off the field. There were a number of opportunities where they could have gone down and scored but the defense made plays.”
Stephenville struck first, marching 85 yards on its opening drive as Renfro eventually scored on a 2-yard dive with 7:30 left in the first period for a 7-0 lead. Renfro's 19-yard connection with Cole Stanley on third-and-16 from the Yellow Jacket 9 got the offense in gear.
The Lions immediately answered with an eight-play, 67-yard trek as runs of 16 and 27 yards by Rodgers moved the ball to the Stephenville 2, where Brownwood's leading rusher — who stands at 1,122 yards and 17 touchdowns on the year — finished the drive.
Brownwood missed the extra point, but didn't trail long as Stephenville's next drive ended with a three-and-out, thanks to a 33-yard loss on a snap over Renfro's head. The Lions took over at the Yellow Jacket 41 after a 36-yard punt and needed just one play to grab the lead, as Rodgers rumbled into the end zone with 1:19 left in the first period. A botched extra point attempt turned into a two-point conversion as Huff connected with Kris Hobbs, making the score 14-7.
The Lions stretched the lead to 21-7 with 4:36 left in the half as, facing a third-and-17 from the Brownwood 39, Huff was able to scramble 58 yards to the Stephenville 3, which set up Rodgers' third touchdown.
“I give all the credit to the line, I just run it,” Rodgers said. “They've been working every week and we just knew we had to bring it today. We were pumped up for the game today and had to show them who's boss.”
Stephenville booted a 34-yard field goal before the first half ended, then Brownwood fumbled at its own 31 — just the second turnover all season — to start the second half. After converting a fourth-and-18 with a 20-yard toss to Gavin Rountree, Renfro scored on another 2-yard carry to reduce Brownwood's lead to 21-16 at 8:36 of the third.
A 49-yard read option keeper by Huff on third-and-2 on Brownwood's next drive moved the ball to the Stephenville 4. The Lions fumbled on the next play, but were able to salvage possession, then lost 8 yards on the next snap before eventually settling for a 30-yard Strong field goal and 24-16 lead at 5:31 of the third period.
Next up for the Lions is reigning Class 4A Division I state champion La Vega (7-1, 2-0), which is coming off a 49-17 victory over China Spring, at 7 p.m. Friday in the home finale. Friday's victor will likely earn the District 5-4A Division I championship. The Lions' last district title came in 2010.
“Bring it, let's go,” Burnett said. “We want to see how good we are, how we play against the best in the state and to see if we can hang with them. Our hope is to get a victory, that's our goal. We're not going to bow down to anybody, we're going to play as hard as we can and let the chips fall where they may. This is great opportunity to measure ourselves.”
LIONS 38, STEPHENVILLE 22
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Brownwood 14 7 10 7 - 38
Stephenville 7 3 6 6 - 22
S: Kade Renfro 2 run (Trace Morrison kick), 7:30, 1st
B: Reece Rodgers 2 run (kick failed), 3:40, 1st
B: Rodgers 41 run (Kris Hobbs pass from Drew Huff), 1:19, 1st
B: Rodgers 3 run (Zach Strong kick), 4:36, 2nd
S: Morrison 34 FG, 1:43, 2nd
S: Renfro 2 run (kick failed), 8:36, 3rd
B: Strong 30 FG, 5:31, 3rd
B: A.J. McCarty 82 pass from Huff (Strong kick), 1:32, 3rd
B: Landon Harris 19 pass from Huff (Strong kick), 7:57, 4th
S: Caden Cowan 17 run (kick failed), 2:17, 4th
TEAM STATS B S
First Downs 18 21
Total Offense 457 305
Rushing 36-327 34-97
Passing 130 208
C-A-I 6-9-0 21-29-1
Fumbles Lost 1 0
Penalties 9-92 4-30
Punts 2-27.0 2-34.0
Rushing — B: Reece Rodgers 28-172, Drew Huff 8-155. S: Kason Phillips 13-47, Kade Renfro 15-43, Caden Cowan 4-37, Eduardo Campos 1-3, Team 1-(33).
Passing – B: Huff 6-9-0-130. S: Renfro 21-29-1-208
Receiving – B: A.J. McCarty 2-82, Dane Johnson 2-14, Landon Harris 1-19, Zach Strong 1-10. S: Gavin Rountree 9-77, Trace Morrison 5-71, Colt Stanley 4-52, Phillips 2-(-2), Campos 1-10.