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Lions begin district play Friday

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin
Lions quarterback Chance Jones prepares to pass in the game with China Spring.

The change in the District 5-4A Division I football schedule that moved the Stephenville-Brownwood game up five weeks to Friday night might not agree with the home-standing Lions.

Workhorse running back Royshad Henderson, who has rushed for 631 yards and seven touchdowns through five games, was wearing a boot on his injured ankle earlier this week. Quarterback Chance Jones also is nursing an injured ankle, and middle linebacker Blaize Espinoza suffered a shoulder injury during last week’s nondistrict loss to Abilene Wylie.

“We hope to have all of them back Friday,” Brownwood head coach Sammy Burnett said, referring to the Friday 7:30 p.m. district opener at Gordon Wood Stadium. District 5-4A DI moved up all its Nov. 6 games to Friday to clear Week 11 for possible makeup games caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On one hand, we want to get the taste out of our mouths from the Wylie game last week. But on the other hand, we could use the bye week because we’ve got several kids banged up. But it is what it is. We have prepared, and we’ll be ready to play,” Burnett said.

Friday’s game will be the 79th between Brownwood and Stephenville in a rivalry dubbed “The Battle of Highway 377.” The Lions lead the series 46-30 with two ties, including last year’s 38-22 Brownwood win.

Brownwood enters the district opener coming off a 28-7 loss to Class 5A Wylie in which the Lions lost three fumbles, two interceptions and a muffed punt. The offensive miscues helped limit Brownwood to 182 total yards -- marking the third time in five nondistrict games for the Lions to finish with fewer than 200 yards on offense.

Stephenville comes in riding the momentum of last week’s 46-33 upset of state-ranked Dumas. Yellow Jackets’ quarterback Gavin Rountree passed for 291 yards and four touchdowns, and the 6-foot-1 senior also rushed for 81 yards and two more scores against Dumas.

“Dumas did a lot of man coverage, and Stephenville lit them up with big plays,” Burnett said. “On one play everybody from Dumas had their backs turned to the line of scrimmage, and the quarterback (Rountree) just threw it in the flat to their running back (Kason Philips), and he took it to the house.

“Defensively, they (Jackets) stunted and put a lot of pressure on the Dumas quarterback -- especially on third down.”

Look for the Jackets to try to pressure the Lions’ quarterback this week, considering Wylie sacked Jones four times for 43 yards in losses and forced him to scramble multiple other times.

In the bigger picture of the entire season, Brownwood and Stephenville share similarities. They’re both 2-3 teams that experienced some exhilarating highs but also some tough lows in nondistrict games. Friday’s winning team could turn its season in the right direction. The losing team will be 2-4 and face hard battle to make the playoffs with state-ranked Waco La Vega and highly regarded Midlothian Heritage still to play.

The Lions and Jackets both suffered lopsided losses to Lampasas -- 55-23 for Brownwood and 41-0 for Stephenville.

The Jackets have had no problems moving the football and scoring points. Rountree is averaging 227 yards passing per game and has thrown for 12 TDs. Trace Morrison, who caught two scoring passes last week against Dumas, is averaging 22 yards per reception with six TDs. Kason Philips is averaging 125 yards rushing per game with eight scores.

The Lampasas game aside, Stephenville is averaging 52 points per game. But the Jackets have struggled on defense, allowing 46 points per game. They lost to Salado (61-45) and Melissa (65-58) despite scoring a lot of points.

If Henderson is healthy, the Lions figure to try to use their running game to keep the ball away from the Jackets. But Burnett said otherwise.

“We want to be balanced. We don’t want to let them zero in on one particular part of our offense,” the third-year Brownwood coach said. “They’re a worthy opponent, and we’ll have to play an all-around good game to beat them.”

Much of Brownwood’s offensive focus this week has been on protecting the ball after fumbling five times last week, losing three, and committing six turnovers including the muffed punt.

“Last year we lost two fumbles the entire season. We fumbled five times last week in one game. I don’t know why, but I do know we’ve focused on protecting the ball this week,” Burnett said.

“We had heart-to-heart talks with our kids in individual groups this week. We’ve worked on our team chemistry. We’re not dwelling on last week or the past. We’re focused on how we can get better today moving forward. That’s all we can do.”

Jones has completed 62 percent of his passes for the Lions, but the sophomore is averaging a modest 87 yards passing per game with two TDs overall. Dane Johnson and Jason Jackson have combined for 36 receptions.

Brownwood’s defense charged with slowing down Stephenville’s scoring is led by safety Khyren Deal with 55 tackles and one interception, nose guard Kris Hobbs with 32 tackles and eight quarterback hurries, linebacker Reece Bolton with 39 tackles, and cornerback Malachi Revada with two interceptions and six pass breakups.