Lions, Burnet meet in search of identity
The Brownwood Lions and Burnet Bulldogs enter Friday’s 7:30 p.m. Class 4A Division I nondistrict game at Burnet in search of a path to the remainder of their football seasons, including district and possibly beyond.
Brownwood (1-2) owns a win over highly regarded Midland Greenwood, a Class 4A Division II state semifinalist last year. But the Lions also have taken double-digit losses to current state-ranked 4A teams from Lampasas and China Spring. Burnet (2-1) owns wins over a pair of 0-3 4A DII teams in Jarrell and Gonzales. Like Brownwood, the Bulldogs were beaten by double digits by a state ranked team in 4A DI Boerne last week.
So where do Brownwood and Burnet stand as their football seasons enter Week 4?
“Burnet has a good team, but they’re a team we should be able to play with and beat -- if we play physical,” Brownwood head coach Sammy Burnett said. “It’ll probably come down to the team that executes the best and plays more physically.
“It’s one step, but we hope to use it to figure out who we are as a team.”
Burnett returned to the practice field this week, and he’ll be on the sideline Friday night after spending the last two weeks in quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19. Following last week’s 35-14 loss to China Spring, Brownwood defensive coordinator David Jones, who filled in for Burnett as head coach, said the Lions need to find their identity. Such a search is often challenging for a young team like Brownwood that relies on nine sophomores.
Brownwood’s offense was limited to 184 total yards against Greenwood and 193 yards against China Spring. The Lions were able to convert four Greenwood miscues into touchdowns, but China Spring lost no turnovers last week.
“We’ve got to be able to run the football and pound the rock,” Burnett said. “The runs set up the play-action passing for us. It all starts with the offensive line.
“We’ve challenged our offensive line this week to reach their potential. Pass protection will be a challenge for us this week, but it all starts with the run game. We know what they (Bulldogs) are going to try to do, and we look to have success on the ground.”
Brownwood’s Royshad Henderson has rushed for 218 yards and five touchdowns the last two weeks, but they’ve been hard-earned yards. The senior back hasn’t been able to break any long runs.
“He’s earning his yards,” Burnett said of 5-foot-9, 180-pound Henderson. “He’s been running hard and being patient. We just need to create some bigger holes for him. This week will be a good opportunity for him against a team we’re on equal footing with.”
Sophomore Chance Jones has made two starts at quarterback. So far he’s16-of-29 passing for 135 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. After throwing shorter, lower-risk passes against Greenwood, Jones threw more down the field last week. He overthrew a couple of receivers on potential big plays, but at least the plan is in place to get the ball down the field.
“His feet are still wet,” Burnett said of Chance Jones. “It’s a process with a young quarterback. The more plays he gets, the more accuracy and consistency he’ll have. Last week was a step in the right direction. We had a chance to work on those things this week in practice.”
Brownwood hopes it flashed its identity in the second half against China Spring with a 19-play touchdown drive that expired 12:18 of the second-half clock. Jones was 4-of-4 passing during the 77-yard drive, but Henderson was the workhorse with 52 yards on 13 carries.
The Lions need to establish those kinds of drives earlier in games to seize momentum. They put together a similar 62-yard drive on the opening possession against Greenwood, took a 7-0 lead, and never trailed.
“In those two drives, we didn’t get behind the chains,” Burnett said. “We had a lot of second-and-6s instead of first-and-15s after a false start penalty. He have to do a better job about consistently staying ahead of the chains.”
Defensively, Burnet figures to pose a big challenge to Brownwood’s pass blocking since the Bulldogs will send five rushers in passing situations.
“They’re constantly moving around and stunting from different directions,” Burnett said of the Bulldogs’ defense. “They’re going to rush five; you just don’t know where a couple of them are coming from. It’s a benefit for them because it makes them unpredictable and difficult to block.”
But for all the stunting and pass rushing by the Bulldogs’ defense, the Lions want to make this game about running the ball.
The Bulldogs also want to run the ball, although they have shown big-play ability in the passing game. In Burnet’s 46-6 season-opening win over Jarrell, Marcus Escamilla rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ shotgun spread formation. Escamilla’s running set up quarterback Jaxson Denton, who passed for three TDs on throws of 24 yards to Devonte Miller, 22 yards to Escamilla and 9 yards to Landon Christian.
Burnet amassed 388 total yards against Jarrell.
In a 29-21 win over Gonzales in Week 2, Escamilla rushed for 117 yards and two TDs. Denton passed for 166 yards and two scores of 50 yards to Miller and 18 yards to Braeden Howell. Denton threw to at least six different receivers against Gonzales. Miller caught just two passes in Burnet’s first two games, but both went for TDs.
In a 30-7 loss last week to Boerne, which is state ranked in 4A DI, Burnet was limited to 198 total yards after converting only once in 10 attempts on third down. Boerne finished with 428 total yards.
Burnet, 12-18 during the previous three seasons, is seeking to end a three-year playoff absence. Tonight’s game will be the first meeting between Brownwood and Burnet since the Lions won a 36-31 decision in 2013.