Banged-up Lions play at No. 10 La Vega on Monday night football
Howard Cosell and “Dandy” Don Meredith, who popularized the NFL version in the 1970s, won’t be calling the game, but the Brownwood Lions will play Monday night football at 7:30 p.m. at Waco La Vega.
Tenth-ranked La Vega enters Monday’s game with a record of 6-2 overall and 3-1 in District 5-4A Division I. Brownwood is 4-4, 2-1. Both teams already have qualified for the Class 4A DI playoffs, but more is still possible for the Lions, who also have a scheduled game against district leader Midlothian Heritage (7-2, 4-0) on Saturday, Nov. 7.
“If we win out, we’re district champs. If we don’t, we’re fourth,” Brownwood head coach Sammy Burnett said Saturday.
Brownwood clinched its playoff spot with Wednesday’s 48-14 win at Waxahachie Life in a game that proved costly from an injury standpoint. Leading rusher Royshad Henderson (high ankle sprain), safety Khyren Deal (knee) and defensive end Zach Bond (ankle sprain) are out of Monday’s game, Burnett said.
“We hope to have them back for our first playoff game (the weekend of Nov. 13),” Burnett said of the three senior veterans.
La Vega, meanwhile, received better news regarding injuries. Quarterback Ara Rauls III, who started as a sophomore during the Pirates’ run to the 2018 4A DI state championship, returned from a broken arm last week and passed for 78 yards in La Vega’s 51-0 win over Alvarado.
Rauls was injured Sept. 4 against Waco Connally and missed six games. La Vega lost twice during his absence to No. 1-ranked Argyle 35-7 and No. 9 Midlothian Heritage 31-21.
“The No. 1 thing he (Rauls) gives them is the ability to throw the football,” Burnett said. “When he got hurt, they put an athlete (Jordan Rogers) back there at quarterback and basically just ran the ball out of multiple formations. They were limited to one element on offense.”
Rogers, one of La Vega’s top linebackers when available to play defense, moved to running back against Alvarado and rushed for three first-half touchdowns. Rogers also ran for 192 yards against Heritage.
Rauls’s return will represent a major challenge for Brownwood’s improving defense that allowed a respectable 14 points against both Alvarado and Waxahachie Life.
“This will be the third game in a row when we’ve only had two days to prepare, but our defense seems to be thriving on that,” said Burnett, whose team’s schedule was modified because of a two-week COVID-19 quarantine. “With only two days to prepare, our defensive kids have been
more focused and more intense in practice. They’ve played faster and with more confidence. They seem to be jelling.”
The Lions’ defense will seek to continue jelling without Bond and Deal, the team’s leading tackler with 77.
Meanwhile on offense, Konyln Anderson replaced Henderson against Waxahachie Life, and the sophomore rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Anderson’s rushing will be critical for Brownwood’s offensive game plan against La Vega’s fast defense.
“We have to run right at them. You can’t run east and west (outside) on them because they are extremely fast,” Burnett said of La Vega’s defense. “Our plan is to run right at them and try to make at least 3 yards on every play. If we can make 3 yards for four straight downs, that’s a first down.
“Once Konyln got comfortable with the speed of the game the other night, he ran with some power. We’re teaching him some technique where he’s not running straight up and getting behind his pads a little more. He’s capable of getting that 3 yards a play for us.”
If the Lions do have to pass, senior Blaize Espinoza has thrown for 200-plus yards in each of the last two games. Against Life, he spread the ball around to Malachi Revada and Dane Johnson as well as Jason Jackson, the team’s leading receiver.
“Blaize is understanding his reads and anticipating routes quicker and better,” Burnett said. “He has progressed to the point where we thought he would be from the get-go. Now he’s going to face a talented defense in La Vega, and the windows to throw in are going to be smaller.”
Despite the two losses this season, La Vega has won 34 of 40 games -- including a state title in 2018 and a state runner-up finish last year -- for third-year head coach Don Hyde