The Brownwood Lions' road to their first district championship since 2010 runs through the defending Class 4A Division I state champion La Vega Pirates, who invade Gordon Wood Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.
The battle for the District 5-4A Division I championship is also a Top 10 showdown as the undefeated Lions (8-0, 2-0) are ranked No. 6 by Harris Ratings Weekly, while La Vega (7-1, 2-0) comes in as the No. 1 team in the state according to the same publication.
“We're ready for the opportunity to face the No. 1 team in the state and see where we are,” said Lions second-year head coach Sammy Burnett. “It's just an opportunity for us to see how good we are, if we're where we want to be, if we're ahead of where we want to be or what we need to do to get to where we want to be before we have an opportunity to face them again in the playoffs, which is our goal. We're loose, their attitudes are lighthearted, they're having a good time and I think they're confident. I feel probably better this week than I have in a long time.”
The lone blemish on La Vega's record is a 49-35 loss to Argyle in Week 2. In district outings, the Pirates have rolled past Stephenville (42-10) and China Spring (49-17) as part as a six-game win streak.
“When you talk about La Vega you can put them in the category with Carthage and Argyle as the three elite teams in our classification,” Burnett said. “They range from 1-3 in any poll you look at.”
La Vega heads into the contest averaging 42 points per outing. Quarterback Landry Kinne has completed 78 of 127 passes for 1,378 yards with 16 touchdowns and one interception while rushing for 247 yards and three scores. Leading the charge on the ground are Elisha Cummings (758 rushing yards, 10 TDs) and Jar'Quae Walton (724 rushing yards, 11 TDs), while top receiving threats include Malachi Wright (31-628, 5 TDs), Sol'Dreveon Degrate 13-176, 2 TDs) and Demicco Chambliss (7-160, 2 TDs).
“They're pretty simple offensively, but they're very big up front and very good at what they do,” Burnett said. “They run a zone stretch scheme and run it, and run it, and run it. They can live with a 2-yard gain, a 1-yard loss and 70-yard touchdown. They stick with it. They get bodies on bodies, they use their big guys to lock onto people and give their backs opportunities to get to the next level. On the outside, they try and get you in man coverage, try and load the box and take their one-on-one matchups with those receivers. They're pretty much a slant, fade, fade-stop team. They let their guys do their thing in space. They can turn a man coverage simple hitch into a big play as well.”
The Lions counter with a defense that yields just 6.7 points and 213.2 yards —
108.0 rushing and 105.3 passing — per outing, with 15 takeaways.
Standouts include Rowdee Gregory (64 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT), Cooper Swanzy (61 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 FR), Kris Hobbs (57 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 FRs), Khyren Deal (53 tackles), Ezequiel Ibarra (49 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL), Damion Jones (47 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 INT), Landon Harris (46 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 TFL, 1 FR), Theo Bryant (33 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FRs), Zach Strong (32 tackles, 4 INTs), Royshad Henderson (27 tackles, 1 TFL) and A.J. McCarty (25 tackles, 0.5 for loss).
“I think we are the best defensive team they've faced,” Burnett said. “We've seen film with them and Argyle and Argyle has a good defense but I think we're faster on defense. I think we bring a different element to the game defensively than they've seen and we'll have more speed than they have seen. I'm not saying we have more speed than they do, but we have more speed than they have seen so hopefully we can cause some problems with that.
“The key defensively is to not give up the big play and let them score quick, make them earn everything they get. The longer you play, the more elite the teams, they're going to score points, that's how it is. What it comes down to is how you respond and play the next play and our kids have already grasped that concept. If we stay with that and don't lose focus we'll be fine.”
On the flip side of the ball, La Vega surrenders 15 points per game as the Pirates are led by LaTravius Johnson (95 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery), Jordan Rogers (73 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery), DeMarrquese Hayes (71 tackles, 1 sack), DeTraveon Thompson (70 tackles, 10 sacks), Ara Rauls (56 tackles, 2 INTs), RaeShawn Roberts (55 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery), Vernon Walker (46 tackles, 1 fumble recovery), Marcus Willis (37 tackles, 2 INTs) and JaVon Iglehart (32 tackles).
“Defensively, they play a lot of man so they can stack the box to stop the run,” Burnett said. “They do a good job playing the 50-50 ball, their corners are their receivers so they turn into receivers when the ball is in the air instead of defensive backs. Their ends are very big and physical but fast and try and contain everything and funnel it to the middle. The tackles do a good job playing two gap type coverage and keep everything inside. From what I've seen I do think we have an opportunity to run the football, and I'm ready to see our guys go against their guys up front and see if we can control the line of scrimmage.”
Brownwood is producing 37.5 points and 399.3 yards per game — 237.9 rushing and 161.4 passing — per outing, with just two turnovers.
Quarterback Drew Huff has connected on 66 of 102 passes for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 561 yard and seven scores. Reece Rodgers leads the rushing attack with 1,122 yards and 17 touchdowns, while primary receiving threats include A.J. McCarty (30-709, 7 TDs), Dane Johnson (13-137, TD), Zach Strong (10-155, TD), Isyah Campos (6-156, 2 TDs) and Rodgers (5-57).
“Offensively, we're going to try and be pretty simple and try and control the football and keep the ball out of their hands, burn as much time as possible while we have the possessions and see if we can move the chains,” Burnett said. “I think we have a good scheme run game wise and also pass game wise, trying to keep it as simple as possible for our kids yet execute. If we can throw the quick ball out there and get 5 yards a pop, that's as good as a 5-yard run play for us. We're going to move the chains, control the clock and slow down the pace a little bit.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 20-point underdog.