In a week that has been like no other this season, the Brownwood Lions will attempt to produce the same results they have in 10 of their 11 outings thus far.
The Lions (10-1) and Alvarado Indians (9-2) will square off in the Class 4A Division I Region II area round of the playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the University of North Texas' Apogee Stadium in Denton.
Brownwood, however, has spent the week of preparation minus head coach Sammy Burnett, who underwent emergency surgery for an abdominal issue Sunday night at Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene. As for Burnett's status Friday, assistant head coach David Jones — who is serving in the head coach role in Burnett's absence — said, “that remains to be seen.”
Regarding the week of practice, Jones said, “We have a routine we go through, nothing changes. We met with our kids and joked that our coaching staff could all probably leave and the guys would show up ready to play Friday night because they understand the process and what we do everyday. But we've had great practices this week, our kids are really tuned into what's going on and excited about the opportunity.”
Alvarado heads into the second-round playoff tilt in the midst of a nine-game win streak since opening with losses to Van (34-14) and Decatur (49-42). The Indians own wins over Kennedale (35-28, 2 OTs), China Spring (49-41), Carrollton Ranchview (42-7), North Dallas (58-0), Dallas Carter (38-13), Dallas Hillcrest (55-7), Wilmer-Hutchins (35-14), Dallas Pinkston (64-0), and Paris (35-28.)
“The more I watch them the more I'm impressed,” Jones said. “It's a really solid football team. Their coach (Jeff Dixon) has been there a number of years and you can really tell by watching them and the way their kids perform, the way they've been trained over the course of time. We're certainly looking for a dogfight.”
Behind a throwback style of offense, the Indians are averaging 42 points and 399 yards — 329 rushing and 70 passing — per game.
“In today's football a lot of times you're seeing spread offenses and a lot of guys throwing it around, down the field and side to side,” Jones said. “This is kind of a throwback game because they're just trying to pound you. The last thing I said to our kids at practice is BYOM, which is bring your own meanness because it's going to be one of those games where the toughest team wins.”
Running back Colby Sampson is averaging 216 rushing yards per game as he's amassed 2,373 yards on 311 carries, an average of 7.6 yards per carry, with 25 touchdowns. Fullback Isaiah Hernandez has chipped in 625 yards and nine scores.
“They're going to give it to him and give it to him and keep doing it until you stop it, and most people haven't stopped it,” Jones said of Sampson. “The other kid, their fullback, is an old school type that blocks for the other one and every now and then they'll pop him up the middle and he's successful when he does it because everyone is so focused on the tailback. It's a little inside zone play where they usually run for 6, 8 or 10 yards.”
Through the air, quarterback Josh Syrus has completed 58 of 110 passes for 820 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Leading receivers include Jake McCullough (16-249, 4 TDs), Cale Svendsen (14-178, 1 TD), and Peyton Alvey (6-102, 3 TDs).
“Their leading receiver has less than 20 catches which means they're not invested in throwing the ball much,” Jones said. “It seems like they do it when you least expect it most of the time, first down and things like that which is something you wouldn't imagine a team like that would do. Most of the time when they throw the ball their kids are open, and everything they do is based off play action.
“We have to do a good job with our secondary and we've preached that all week. Coach (Brett) Mouser and Coach (Darren) Bailey do an excellent job at training our secondary. We haven't had the ball thrown over our head this year except maybe once or twice and when it happened we tackled guys. We haven't given up long touchdown passes at all. Our coaches have done a good job this week training our kids' eyes because that's the name of the game. If your eyes start drifting into the backfield that's when you get the ball thrown over your head on play action passes. If we're focused on keying our keys and doing what they're supposed to do I think we'll be good.”
The Lions counter with a defense that is giving up 10.2 points and 229 yards — 123.8 rushing and 105.2 passing — per outing, with 16 takeaways on the season, including four returned for touchdowns.
Standouts include Rowdee Gregory (87 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR), Cooper Swanzy (86 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 FR), Kris Hobbs (81 tackles, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 FRs), Khyren Deal (77 tackles, 0.5 TFL), Ezequiel Ibarra(67 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 6 TFL), Damion Jones
(61 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL, 2 INTs), Landon Harris (56 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 FR), Zach Strong
(44 tackles, 4 INTs), Theo Bryant (42 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FRs), Royshad Henderson (36 tackles, 1 TFL), and A.J. McCarty (35 tackles, 1.5 for loss).
On the flip side of the ball, Alvarado has yielded 20 points per game on average with 59 tackles for loss, 31 sacks, and 25 takeaways — 21 fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Leading the charge are Alex Rodriguez (120 tackles, 13 for loss, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR), T.J. Shackelford (70 tackles, 14 sacks, 13 for loss, 4 FRs), Brayson Fuller (58 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, 2 FRs), Bucky Boulton (53 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack) and Jonathan Canales King (47 tackles, 6 for loss, 3 sacks).
Brownwood's offense is coming off its second-highest point output of the season in its 61-14 bi-district championship victory over Fort Worth Castleberry. Behind the line of Bryant, Ethan Pesina, Jimi Brown, Brad Robinson and Tyler Tiner, the Lions generate 37.8 points and 396.6 yards — 225.7 on the ground and 170.9 through the air — on average, with seven turnovers.
The Lions have their own game-changer in the backfield as Reece Rodgers has churned out 1,559 yards and 24 touchdowns, while quarterback Drew Huff has chipped in 643 yards with nine trips to the end zone. Royshad Henderson (241 yards, 3 TDs) provides an additional running threat for the Lions.
Through the air, Huff has connected on 63 percent of his passes — 91 of 144 — for 1,798 yards with 16 touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Leading receivers include McCarty (38-964, 10 TDs), Dane Johnson (20-241, 2 TDs), Strong (13-186, 2 TDs), Isyah Campos (10-230, 2 TDs) and Rodgers (8-112, 1 TD).
On the injury front, outside linebacker Landon Harris could return to the lineup after missing most of last week's game with a leg injury
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is an 8-point favorite.
Friday's winner will face either Argyle (11-0) or Stephenville (6-4) in the Region II semifinals next weekend.