With only two days of practice, Brownwood resumes season against Alvarado

By Mike Lee / Special to the Bulletin
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How do you prepare for a high school football game with only two days of practice? The Brownwood Lions hope they found the answers this week.

The two-week quarantine for its varsity football players was lifted Wednesday, and Brownwood practiced that day and Thursday for Friday’s District 5-4A Division I game against the Alvarado Indians, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Gordon Wood Stadium.

“We’re preparing in a hurry,” third-year Lions head coach Sammy Burnett said prior to Wednesday’s practice. “The coaches were in Zoom meetings with the players Monday and Tuesday to get in the game plan. Then we have two days on the field to apply what we taught in the Zoom meetings. We’ll get the players as many practice reps as possible in two days.

“It’s a packed week, physically and mentally, but we’ll be ready to go Friday. We’re glad our kids get to play the game they love again.”

Brownwood and Alvarado met in the second round of the Class 4A Division I playoffs last year, with the Lions winning 37-35. Brownwood finished 11-2, while Alvarado was 9-3 last year. Both teams are rebuilding this year. The Lions are 2-4 overall and 0-1 in district after postponing two district games because of COVID-19. Alvarado is 2-6 and 0-3.

Figuring a team needs at least two district wins to make the playoffs in the six-team district, Alvarado has to win Friday to keep its realistic postseason hopes alive.

“It’s their chance to get in the playoff hunt, and it’s our job to give them a loss and kick them out of the playoff picture,” Burnett said of Alvarado.

Brownwood should be much healthier Friday than when its quarantine began Oct. 7. Burnett said injuries to quarterback Chance Jones (ankle), linebacker Blaize Espinoza (shoulder) lineman Tyler Tiner (ankle), safety Khyren Deal (concussion) and running back Royshad Henderson (ankle) have mended. He expected those players to be available Friday.

Next week’s Wednesday game at Waxahachie Life is the hopeful return date for sophomore safety Jordan Leach, who is recovering from a concussion.

Henderson has been Brownwood’s most consistent offensive threat this season with 775 yards and eight touchdowns rushing. Jones, a sophomore, has completed 62 percent of his passes, but for a modest 87 yards per game with two TDs while splitting time with Espinoza. Jason Jackson, another sophomore, has emerged as the Lions’ leading receiver with 19 catches for 397 yards and six TDs.

Prior to the quarantine, Brownwood had lost 10 turnovers during losses to Abilene Wylie (28-7) and Stephenville (59-34). Burnett isn’t just hoping the turnovers simply disappeared during the quarantine.

“We harp on turnovers regardless of the situation,” Burnett said. “We only had two lost fumbles during the regular season last year. We stress protecting the ball all the time. It’s unfortunate that we had too many turnovers in our last two games.

“Turnovers will be very important this week, because Alvarado likes to control the clock with their running game.”

Deal’s clean bill of health is crucial since the safety leads the Lions in tackles with 70. Other defensive leaders include linebacker Reece Bolton with 45 tackles, nose guard Kris Hobbs with 34 tackles, and cornerback Malachi Revada with 44 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass breakups.

The Brownwood defense is charged Friday with slowing Alvarado’s running game led by senior William Labermeier, who has rushed for 1,338 yards (167 per game) and 11 touchdowns this year.

Alvarado returned only one offensive starter from last year, and like Brownwood, the Indians start a sophomore at quarterback. West Conner has completed 44 percent of his passes for 85 yards per game with five TDs and 13 interceptions. His favorite target has been Ty Ford with 28 receptions, including two TDs.

“Their I-back (Labermeier) will get 70 percent of their touches on offense,” Burnett said of Alvarado. “Their sophomore quarterback carries out his fakes well, and that sets up their bootlegs and play-action passes.

“Most of what they do is based on formations, and they’re very good at executing what they do. We’ve got to be lined up right, understand the tendencies of their formations and play fast.”

Alvarado is averaging a modest 16 points per game, and the Indians have been shut out twice this year by Decatur and Kilgore. The Indians are allowing 40 points per game, and they’ve allowed 45 or more points five times. Alvarado also has been hurt by a minus-7 turnover ratio.

In district, Alvarado has lost to Midlothian Heritage 56-23, Waxahachie Life 20-14 and Stephenville 56-21. Alvarado’s wins have come over Kaufman (20-17) and Gainesville (38-28), who have combined for a 5-8 record.

“In spite of their record, we think they (Indians) are jelling at the right time,” Burnett said. “They probably played their best game last week against Stephenville. If they could have gotten a defensive stop, it could have been 28-28 at the half.”

Alvarado is led by 16th-year head coach Jeff Dixon, who is 100-74 with 13 playoff berths in 15 previous seasons with the Indians.