The No. 6 Brownwood Lions target their first 10-win season since 2015 as their 11th consecutive trip to the postseason begins with a Class 4A Division I Region II bi-district tilt against the Fort Worth Castleberry Lions.
The District 5 runner-up Lions (9-1) — seeking their first bi-district crown since 2016 — and District 6 third seed Castleberry (7-3) will square off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tarleton Memorial Stadium in Stephenville, where Brownwood will be the designated home team.
Castleberry — which halted a six-year playoff drought with its first winning season since 1994 — finished third in its league behind Kennedale and Fort Worth Dunbar.
“Castleberry is excited to be in the playoffs and they're going to come ready and prepare the best they can to try and knock off the Brownwood Lions,” said Lions second-year head coach Sammy Burnett. “We wouldn't expect anything different.
“We need to go into the game acting like we've been there, go into the game mentally prepared for what is to come. We've done the work and have the confidence and faith in our ability to know we can go out there and continue to do what we've done all year that has allowed us to be 9-1 and that is execute. We just need to be Brownwood Lions and do what we do and don't worry about the opponent. If we do that and play with great passion, and don't create unforced mistakes, I think we have a great opportunity be successful Friday night.”
Castleberry's wins this season have come at the expense of Carter-Riverside (71-0), North Side (42-21), Godley (48-47), Western Hills (57-35), Lake Worth (42-41), Diamond Hill-Jarvis (71-31), and Benbrook (21-7). The losses have come at the hands of Gainesville (58-8) Kennedale (62-14), and Dunbar (20-13).
The most recent outing for Castleberry was the 21-7 victory over Benbrook. Aside from that win, Castleberry had scored at least 42 points in all other victories, while it mustered no more than 14 points in the three losses.
Quarterback Drew Aguillon (1,106 yards, 16 TDs, 3 INTs; 614 rushing yards, 8 TDs) was lost for the season on Oct. 18 after tearing a knee ligament late in the game against Lake Worth. Jayden Ivy (10 of 29 for 172 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs) has taken over the bulk of the snaps, with leading receiver Lonnie Adams (35-716, 11 TDs receiving; 18-162, 3 rushing TDs; 0 of 2 passing) seeing occasional time at quarterback as well.
Other weapons for the Castleberry offense — which averages 39 points and 372 yards — 242 rushing and 130 passing — per game include running backs Jason Garcia (1,097 rushing yards, 13 TDs) and Elijah West (327 rushing yards, 5 TDs) and receiver Diego Rivera (24-471, 7 TDs receiving).
“Their quarterback got hurt a little earlier in the year and a back up came in, Jayden Ivy, and he throws the ball the ball extremely well,” Burnett said. “He's also the personal protector on the punt and they've run a fake with him. They'll also go with Lonnie Adams who plays outside linebacker and receiver for them but also gets back there at quarterback in a wildcat. He's a big kid that runs the ball extremely well so we'll have to see how their personnel is and base our defense accordingly.
“They've got some size up front on their offensive live, Jesus Torres, Josue Arellanes, Charles Sanders, and Greg Garcia are all big kids up front, 6-1, 6-2 mid-200s range. They get in a two tight-end set and try and run the ball, and they'll get in some passing formations.”
The Lions enter the game allowing just 9.9 points and 226.8 yards — 121.5 rushing and 105.3 passing — per game with 16 takeaways and four defensive touchdowns.
Standouts include Rowdee Gregory (83 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT), Cooper Swanzy (80 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 FR), Kris Hobbs (73 tackles, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 FRs), Khyren Deal (73 tackles, 0.5 TFL), Ezequiel Ibarra (60 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 5 TFL), Landon Harris (56 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 FR), Damion Jones (55 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 2 INTs), Zach Strong (43 tackles, 4 INTs), Theo Bryant (39 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FRs), A.J. McCarty (33 tackles, 1.5 for loss) and Royshad Henderson (30 tackles, 1 TFL).
The Castleberry defense, meanwhile, is giving up 32 points per game and has surrendered at least 30 points in half its contests. Leading the charge defensively for a unit with 17 takeaways, 17 sacks and 78 tackles for loss are Cole Lopez (114 tackles, 10 for loss), Matthew Teran (81 tackles, 12 for loss, 2 FRs), Irvin Saenza (65 tackles, 14 for loss, 7 sacks), Adams (54 tackles, 7 for loss, 1 INT), Rivera (52 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 INT), Hector Mendez (48 tackles, 1 for loss, 3 FRs) and Jose Ortiz (48 tackles, 5 for loss, 2 FRs).
“They're similar to what we just saw in China Spring defensively,” Burnett said. “They play a 3-4 defense, same style, same type coverages so we haven't done a lot new this week.“
The Lions offense is generating 35.5 points and 392.2 yards — 227 on the ground and 165.2 through the air — per outing, with five turnovers on the season.
Behind the blocking of Bryant, Ethan Pesina, Brad Robinson, Jimi Brown and Tyler Tiner, running back Reece Rodgers has amassed 1,417 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns while quarterback Drew Huff has chipped in 618 yards and seven carries and Royshad Henderson has tacked on 214 yards with two trips to the end zone.
Through the air, Huff has connected on 84 of 137 passes for 1,597 yards with 14 scoring strikes and just two interceptions — both coming against La Vega. Receiving threats include McCarty (36-856, 8 TDs), Dane Johnson (19-246, 2 TDs), Strong (10-155, TD), Isyah Campos (9-189, 2 TDs) and Rodgers (7-105, TD).
Perhaps the biggest key for the Lions will be to avoid the slow starts of the last two games. Against La Vega and China Spring, Brownwood combined to a score a total of seven first-half points in those two outings.
“We stepped on our own feet and when you do that you tend to fall on your face, and we did,” Burnett said in reference to the last two games. “We can't do that in the playoffs. We have to hit it running and be ready to go from the get-go. We've definitely been focusing on that and on the mental aspect of that and what we have to do to make sure that doesn't happen again.
“But if it does, we have to overcome it like we did in the second half against China Spring and just believe and start executing, and when you do that you can start rolling. They start feeding off it and the frenzy starts. If we can pick up where we left off last Friday night we'll be in good shape.”
Harris, a starting outside linebacker for the Lions, will likely be relegated to deep snapper duty only as he continues to heal from a bone bruise in his knee suffered against China Spring, while McCarty will miss the first half of the game due to his second-half ejection last week.
If the Lions defeat Castleberry, they will face either District 8-4A champion Alvarado (8-2) or District 7-4A fourth seed Paris (6-4) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22 at the University of North Texas' Apogee Stadium in Denton.