The Brownwood Lions' resiliency was put to the test in their 37-35 area championship victory over Alvarado last week, and now perhaps the toughest challenge of the season awaits in the Class 4A Division I Region II semifinals.
The Lions (11-1) and Argyle Eagles (12-0) — ranked No. 1 in the state in multiple polls — will square off at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Baylor University's McLane Stadium in Waco.
Brownwood second-year head coach Sammy Burnett earlier this season called Argyle — along with La Vega and Carthage — the three elite teams from Class 4A Division I. Argyle is coming off a 63-49 area playoff win over Stephenville, which it also defeated, 42-14, in the season opener. The Eagles also handed La Vega its only loss, 49-35, in Week 2 while Brownwood's only defeat came at the hands of La Vega, 31-14, in the next-to-last regular season outing.
Argyle is prone to surrendering its fair share of points, as last week's battle with Stepenville indicates, but the Eagles offense has been almost impossible to stop all season.
With 665 points scored in a dozen games, Argyle is averaging 55 points along with 538 yards — 311 passing and 227 rushing — per outing.
Bo Hogeboom is statistically far and away the best quarterback the Lions have faced all season, completing 181 of 275 attempts — 66 percent — for 3,340 yards with 53 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The primary receiving threats consist of Cole Kirkpatrick (58-,1598, 26 TDs), Alex Gonzales (52-895, 12 TDs), Cade Merka (33-572, 4 TDs) and Jasper Lott (18-220, 7 TDs).
The ground game is spearheaded by Luke Farris (986 yards, 14 TDs), Tito Byce (823 yards, 10 TDs), Knox Scoggins (578 yards, 4 TDs) and Trevor Duck (236 yards, 2 TDs).
Argyle also has eight linemen on the roster listed at 6-2 or taller, all weighing 255 pounds or more.
While the Lions defense has been stellar most of the season, Brownwood is coming off its shakiest outing of the season. The Lions allowed a season-high 35 points and 443 yards — with 28 points and 261 yards coming in the second half alone. Brownwood did make three fourth-down stops after Alvarado advanced deep into Lion territory, which proved crucial in the final outcome.
For the year, Brownwood gives up 12.3 points and 246.8 yards — 132.9 rushing and 113.9 passing — on average, with 21 takeaways.
Among those tasked with slowing down the dangerous Argyle offense will be inside linebacker Cooper Swanzy (99 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 FR), inside linebacker Rowdee Gregory (94 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FRs), safety Khyren Deal (92 tackles, 0.5 TFL), lineman Kris Hobbs (89 tackles, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 FRs), lineman Ezequiel Ibarra (77 tackles, 6 TFL, 3.5 sacks), outside linebacker Damion Jones (66 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL, 2 INTs), outside linebacker Landon Harris (60 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 FR, 1 INT), safety Zach Strong (52 tackles, 4 INTs), lineman Theo Bryant (50 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FRs), and cornerbacks Royshad Henderson (46 tackles, 1 TFL) and A.J. McCarty (42 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 1 INT).
On the flip side, Argyle's defense yields 25 points per game and has given up at least 35 points four times, and more than 40 on three occasions. The Eagles have recorded 114 tackles for loss, 35 sacks and 21 takeaways for the year.
Leading the charge for the Eagles are Braiden Rexroat (76 tackles, 19 for loss, 7 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FRs), Will Ramsey (72 tackles, 6 for loss), Davis Elsey (67 tackles, 12 for loss, 5 sacks), Riley Hartman (60 tackles, 1 for loss, 2 INTs), Jake Sullivan (46 tackles, 1 for loss, 3 INTs), Tate Van Poppel (44 tackles, 10 for loss, 4 sacks), Cullen Davee 42 (tackles, 8 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 INT) and Blake Sullivan (42 tackles, 8 for loss, 2 sacks).
The Lions will be seeking a more consistent offensive effort against Argyle as last week was a tale of two halves. Brownwood racked up 254 yards — 128 passing and 126 rushing — and four first touchdowns in the first half against Alvarado en route to building a 27-point lead. After the break, Brownwood mustered one touchdown, a field goal and 128 total yards — with 93 of those yards coming on two snaps — with a trio of three-and-outs, which greatly aided Alvarado in its rally.
For the season, the Lions average 37.8 points and 395.4 yards — 222.5 rushing and 172.9 passing — per game behind the blocking of Bryant, Ethan Pesina, Brad Robinson, Jimi Brown and Brandon Farrow.
Reece Rodgers is averaging 142 yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game on the ground as he has rushed for 1,708 yards and 27 touchdowns on 214 carries — an average of 8 yards per tote.
Quarterback Drew Huff has emerged as a dual threat, completing 100 of 159 passes for 1,993 yards with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions, while adding 681 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
The top weapons in the passing game for the Lions are receivers McCarty (40-1,006, 11 TDs), Dane Johnson (21-270, 2 TDs), Zach Strong, 16-287, 3 TDs), Isyah Campos (12-250, 2 TDs) and Rodgers (9-115, 2 TDs).
Turnovers could play a critical role for the Lions, who forced three against Alvarado, giving them 21 takeaways for the year. With eight turnovers of its own, Brownwood is at +13 in turnover margin for the season, another key component to its 11 wins in 12 outings. Keeping the ball away from the Argyle offense as much as possible — be it time of possession of turnovers — is among the greatest priorities for the Lions heading into the showdown.
Special teams is another area where the Lions would like to gain the advantage. Strong proved himself to be a clutch weapon as a field goal kicker with last week's 34-yard game-winner in the final minute. Winning the return game, either advancing against the Eagles or stopping Argyle on its efforts, will be vital. And though they would rather not, if the Lions are forced to punt an improvement on last week's 14-yard average will be necessary to prevent Argyle's explosive offense from getting the ball with a short field ahead.
Friday's winner will face either La Vega (11-1) or Melissa (9-3) next week in the Class 4A Division I Region II championship game.