DENTON — Midway through the third period, the Brownwood Lions appeared well on their way to a Class 4A Division I Region II area championship victory over the Alvarado Indians, owning a comfortable 27-point cushion for the second time in the game.
Fast forward to 1:33 remaining in the contest, and the Lions had surrendered 28 consecutive points on were on the brink of their season ending in stunningly abrupt fashion.
But an eight-play, 47-yard drive by the Lions moved to the ball to Alvarado 17 where Zach Strong — who had missed an extra point earlier in the game that helped the Indians gain a one-point advantage — drilled a 34-yard field goal with 28 seconds left, pushing Brownwood back in front.
Then, with Alvarado at the midfield stripe with 19 seconds left, linebacker Landon Harris stepped in front of a slant pass by Indian quarterback Joshua Syrus and recorded a game-clinching interception — Brownwood's third takeaway of the game — as the Lions escaped the University of North Texas' Apogee Stadium with a 37-35 victory Friday night.
“A long time ago a wise coach told me wins are hard to come by, especially in the second round of the playoffs,” said Brownwood assistant coach David Jones, who served in a head coaching capacity Friday night. “It wasn't pretty, but our kids never quit and they haven't all year. We got into some adversity and lost the momentum and momentum is so big. To see our kids fight back at the end and put those points on the board to win the game was very, very special. Alvarado's a very good football team, they're well-coached, but we're going to enjoy this for a couple of minutes and then we're going to get ready for round three which was the main objective.”
The victory marked the culmination of a challenging week for the Lions. Head coach Sammy Burnett underwent emergency abdominal surgery Sunday night, was released from Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene Thursday, and attended the game participating in a very limited role.
“I went through a little ordeal earlier in the week and God has just blessed me with so much and refocused me on making sure I take care of myself,” Burnett said after the game. “I'm more appreciative of Coach Jones, the staff and everyone involved in the Brownwood way. The outpouring of love and prayers I received is humbling.
Regarding the game, Burnett said, “I said a million times if I could sit in the press box and call plays it would be easier for me and I got up here and it was gravy. I actually enjoyed it. I was warm, I was able to see the defense and call plays pretty easy. I didn't call all of them, I called some shots here and there but I let those coaches who have been working all week do what they do. But when Zach kicked that field goal I stood up and there was no pain. I felt absolutely great, it was a great moment. I'm really proud of our kids and the resiliency they showed to come out and get a win. There wasn't any panicking, even at the end. They ran out there, executed the field goal to win the ball game, and it was a total team effort for sure.”
Jones said, “It was an emotional week for us and our kids responded in a great way. Sammy's done a lot of great things since he's been here but one of the best things he's done is hire some coaches that are professional and mature men that have a job to do and take care of it every single day. It's hard when you miss the main guy, but our kids and our coaches stepped up and did what they were required to do and here we are, and I'm very happy about tonight.”
The Lions' game-winning drive began at their own 36 with just over 90 seconds left following a 2-yard touchdown plunge by Alvarado's Colby Sampson, who rushed for 165 yards on 38 carries — an average of 4.3 per tote.
Brownwood's first snap resulted in a pass interference penalty, one of six flags against Alvarado for 50 yards. The Lions were penalized only twice for 10 yards.
Following an incompletion, quarterback Drew Huff scrambled for 17 yards to the Alvarado 37. A pass of 7 yards from Huff to A.J. McCarty, along with a Huff carry of 8 yards and a 5-yard penalty against the Indians moved the ball to the 17 where the drive stalled — and Strong was summoned to kick.
“I missed an extra point earlier and every time I miss a kick it really frustrates me,” Strong said. “There was lot of stress, but it was a great snap, great hold and a great job by everyone on the line not letting it get blocked. But when I see the field goal team come out I thought, 'Come on. Really? Me? You sure? I just had to get it done and I'm a happy Lion right now.”
Jones added, “For Zach Strong to kick that field goal, he's got ice water in his veins. That's a big-time situation, but Brownwood kids have always relished big-time opportunities like that and he came through for us.”
Alvarado's ensuing drive began at the Brownwood 44 and after a 7-yard pass on the first snap, Harris foiled the Indians' bid to come from behind again.
“Coach (Derrick Stacks) knew something like that was coming,” said Harris, who was relegated to deep snapper duty last week while nursing a knee injury. “I was playing high and they ran a corner and sat down. They threw him the ball and I made a play.”
Jones said of Harris, “What a great kid. He missed the last game and that was tough on him. We were bringing our outside backers a good bit the first half and second half to try and control their bootleg game. The last series we obviously wanted to drop some guys out in coverage and we got lucky and he stepped in front of one. That was a big-time play by a big-time player.”
After Alvarado opened the game by matching to the Brownwood 14 on a drive that chewed 8:05 off the clock, but did not result in points, the Lions dominated the remainder of the first half.
The Lions' initial possession covered 79 yards in 11 plays as Reece Rodgers — who rushed for 149 yards — scored the first of his three touchdowns on a 5-yard tote 44 seconds into the second period, staking Brownwood to a 7-0 edge.
Brownwood followed with a pooch kick that Alvarado failed to catch, and Rowdee Gregory recovered. On the next snap, Huff — who passed for 195 yards — threw the first of his two touchdowns to A.J. McCarty, who made a one-handed grab to secure the 35-yard score.
After Alvarado was stopped on the Lion 41 on a fourth-and-2 rush attempt, the Lions drove 60 yards in five plays as Rodgers' 24-yard touchdown gallop boosted the lead to 21-0 at the 5:50 mark.
An interception by McCarty set up Brownwood's fourth touchdown drive of the first half, a 75-yard trek capped by a 4-yard Rodgers run with 29 seconds to go.
But Alvarado scored the final points of the first half on a 46-yard hook and lateral from Syrus to Cale Svendsen to Isaiah Hernandez.
It appeared the momentum was back on the Lions' side after a 59-yard slant from Huff to Strong — who grabbed three receptions for 101 yards — extended the lead to 34-7 at 8:37 of the third.
Alvarado responded with four straight touchdowns — on runs of 1 and 2 yards by Sampson, a 25-yard toss from Syrus to Peyton Alvey and a 35-yard scoring sprint by Hernandez on a Statue of Liberty play.
The Indians also recovered on onside kick during the spurt, while the Lions went three-and-out on two of three possessions with one total first down and three punts for an average of 14 yards. Brownwood did, however, stuff Sampson on fourth-and-1 at the Lion 3 with 9:13 left, which loomed large down the stretch.
“It was a tale of two halves because we beat them at their own game in the first half,” Jones said. “We controlled the clock the entire first half and did what we wanted up front. The second half we got behind the sticks and couldn't flip the field on them and they started controlling the clock and that's tough in these situations.”
Brownwood finished with 382 yards of total offense — 195 passing and 182 rushing — with 254 of those yards coming before halftime. Alvarado (9-3), whose nine-game win streak was halted, scored the most points the Lions have allowed in a game all year and tallied 443 yards — 233 on the ground and 210 through the air — with 261 yards coming in the final two periods.
The Lions (11-1) will next face the Argyle Eagles (12-0) — who knocked off Stephenville for the second time this season by a 63-49 count Thursday night — at either 1 or 1:30 p.m. Friday Nov. 29 at Baylor University's McLane Stadium in Waco in Class 4A Division I Region II semifinal action.
LIONS 37, ALVARADO 35
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Alvarado 0 7 7 21 - 35
Brownwood 0 27 7 3 - 37
B: Reece Rodgers 5 run (Zach Strong kick), 11:16, 2nd
B: A.J. McCarty 35 pass from Drew Huff (Strong kick), 11:06, 2nd
B: Rodgers 24 run (Strong kick), 5:50, 2nd
B: Rodgers 4 run (kick failed), 0:29, 2nd
A: Isaiah Hernandez 46 pass from Joshua Syrus (Pedro Diera), 0:03, 2nd
B: Strong 59 pass from Huff (Strong kick), 8:37, 3rd
A: Colby Sampson 1 run (Diera kick), 3:37 3rd
A: Peyton Alvey 25 pass from Syrus (Diera kick), 7:37, 3rd
A: Hernandez 35 run (Diera kick), 5:47, 4th
A: Sampson 2 run (Diera kick), 1:33, 4th
B: Strong 34 FG, 0:28, 4th
TEAM STATS A B
First downs 22 21
Total offense 443 382
Rushing yards 47-233 31-187
Passing yards 195 210
C-A-I 10-23-2 9-15-0
Fumbles Lost 1 1
Penalties 6-50 2-10
Rushing — A: Colby Sampson 38-165, Isaiah Hernandez 5-59, William Labrameier 1-10, Joshua Syrus 3-(-1). B: Reece Rodgers 22-149, Drew Huff 9-38.
Passing — A: Syrus 10-23-2-210. B: Huff 9-15-0-195
Receiving — A: Cale Svendsen 3-17, Jacob McCullough 2-69, Ty Ford 2-45, Peyton Alvey, 2-34, Hernandez 1-46. B: Zach Strong 3-101, A.J. McCarty 2-42, Isyah Campos 2-20, Dane Johnson 1-29, Rodgers 1-3.