Brownwood takes on challenge of undefeated Kennedale to kick off playoffs
Brownwood will be missing at least five players Friday, and the Lions are facing a Kennedale defense that allows 8.7 points per game. But the Lions are in the football playoffs, which beats the alternative.
“It’s Week 12, and we’re still playing,” Brownwood head coach Sammy Burnett said Wednesday. “We could be playing basketball right now, but we’re not. We’re playing in the football playoffs, and that’s always exciting.”
The Kennedale Wildcats (9-0-1) will host the Brownwood Lions (4-5) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in a Class 4A Division I bidistrict game. Kennedale, a southeast suburb of Fort Worth, is the No. 1 seed from District 6-4A, while Brownwood is the No. 4 seed from District 5-4A. The Harris Rating Service lists Kennedale as a 21-point favorite.
The winner will face the Melissa-Dallas Carter winner in next week’s area round of the postseason.
Burnett said Brownwood will be missing at least four starters tonight — including safety and leading tackler Khyren Deal, as well as starting linemen Tyler Tiner and Logan Gillem, to injuries. Linebacker Chance Jones will miss the game because of a COVID-19 quarantine, as will backup lineman Slayde Espinoza, who likely would have started for Gillem.
On the positive side of the Lions’ lengthy injury report, leading receiver Jason Jackson is expected back in the lineup, along with defensive end Zach Bond and cornerback/receiver Malachi Revada. Leading rusher Royshad Henderson will try to play despite a high ankle sprain.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Burnett said of Henderson.
By kickoff Friday night, the Lions will have gone 11 days since their last game against Waco La Vega on Nov. 2. That game ended a stretch in which Brownwood played three games in 11 days, including wins over Alvarado (47-14) and Waxahachie Life (48-14) that clinched a 12th consecutive playoff berth for the Lions. The unusual schedule was a result of COVID-19 postponements.
“We tried to rest,” Burnett said of the Lions’ agenda since their last game. “We’re missing some kids that have been quarantined and some that are still injured. For Week 12, that’s about what you’d expect.”
Henderson, a senior who has missed most of the last two games, enters the postseason with 973 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing. If he can’t go, sophomore Konyln Anderson, who ran for 116 yards and two TDs against Waxahachie Life, will step in.
Brownwood quarterback Blaize Espinoza, who has completed 48 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns, should have his frontline receivers back. Jackson has averaged 23.4 yards per catch with nine TDs, Dane Johnson has 25 receptions, and Revada caught two scoring passes against Waxahachie Life.
Brownwood, which averages 28 points and 299 total yards per game, will need all its offensive threats against a Kennedale defense that allowed 14 or fewer points to eight regular-season opponents. The Wildcats allowed just 27 points in six district games.
“They’re not as big as La Vega, but they are very athletic,” Burnett said of Kennedale. “They stunt a bunch to try and confuse you. They’ll run an even front and bring six or sometimes they’ll bring everybody. They want to see if they can get to your quarterback or into your backfield.”
Kennedale’s best defensive player is all-state safety J.D. Coffey, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior and four-year starter.
In three-point wins over Benbrook and Wimberley, Kennedale’s defense allowed some passing yards, but limited both opponents to less than 50 yards rushing.
Offensively, the Wildcats are primarily a running team with backs Marlete Joyner and Cameron Lyles, along with quarterback Jeremiah Myers.
“They’re a Wing-T, Slot-T, double wing team. They’re an old-school, downhill running team like Alvarado and Midland Greenwood,” Burnett said. “They’ll also run some midline option, some outside veer, and play-action and sprint-out passes.”
Brownwood’s defense, which allows 34 points per game, will need big games from lineman Kris Hobbs, who has made 47 tackles this year; linebacker Reece Bolton, who has 58 stops; and Revada, who has 49 tackles, three interceptions and 11 pass breakups.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge,” Burnett said of playing Kennedale. “We’re 21-point underdogs, but we’re not scared.”