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Brownwood Lions blitzed by Kennedale in bidistrict loss

Mike Lee
Special to the Brownwood Bulletin
Brownwood High School Lions Football

KENNEDALE — Kennedale intercepted five Brownwood passes and returned three for touchdowns, including a 101-yard pick six by Tyler Choice, and the Wildcats beat the Lions 44-7 Friday night in a Class 4A Division I bidistrict football game.

District 6-4A DI champion Kennedale (10-0-1) advanced to play Melissa, which beat Dallas Carter on Friday, in next week’s area round of the playoffs. Brownwood, the No. 4 seed from District 5-4A DI, finished 4-6.

Choice entered Friday’s game as a temporary replacement for starter Kameron Sallis, whose 33-yard interception return for a first-half touchdown staked Kennedale to a 20-0 second-quarter lead.

Choice’s pick six was a back-breaker for the Lions, who had driven 77 yards from their 9-yard line to the Wildcats’ 14 while trailing 23-7 in the third quarter. On third-and-10, Brownwood quarterback Blaize Espinoza threw for the end zone, but Choice intercepted and the sophomore defensive back raced 101 yards to give the Wildcats a 30-7 third-quarter lead.

Choice’s pick six also picked up a Kennedale team that was frustrating after receiving three 15-yard penalties during the third quarter.

Linebacker Braden Waters added a 22-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that extended the Wildcats’ lead to 44-7.

“We put our defense in some tough positions tonight with turnovers,” Brownwood head coach Sammy Burnett said on his postgame show on KOXE-FM radio. “Our defense played pretty well. Kennedale plays great defense. They put a lot of pressure on us, and we didn’t execute on offense.”

The Brownwood Lions prepare to kick off against Midland Greenwood on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, at Gordon Wood Stadium in Brownwood.

After Friday’s game, Kennedale’s defense has allowed 85 points in 11 games, an average of 7.7 points per game. The Wildcats’ defense allowed 226 yards passing to Brownwood, but only 34 yards rushing on 27 attempts.

Espinoza was the target of a Kennedale blitz and heavy pressure on almost every play. The senior quarterback finished 15-of-38 passing with one touchdown, but he threw five interceptions and was sacked four times.

“Blaize had a tough night, but he never quit,” Burnett said. “He never dropped his head. He kept going back out there on the field and moving forward toward the next play.”

The pick sixes aside, Brownwood held its own against undefeated Kennedale. The Lions gained 14 first downs and 260 total yards compared to the Wildcats’ nine first downs and 310 total yards.

Brownwood put together second-half drives that reached the Kennedale 14-, 10- and 9-yard lines, but the Lions came away with no points on any of those threats. One red-zone drive ended with Choice’s interception while the other two ended on downs.

“It was a combination of things — penalties, busted assignments and missed reads,” Burnett said of his team’s red-zone shortcomings. “But you know what, our kids fought hard until the end, and I’m proud of them for that.”

Even though the Lions struggled to run the ball, Royshad Henderson managed 56 yards rushing on 19 carries, giving the senior 1,029 yards for the season. Also for Brownwood, sophomore Jason Jackson caught five passes for 32 yards, senior Dane Johnson caught four passes for 40 yards, and senior Malachi Revada caught three balls for 99 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown.

Kennedale gained 302 of its 310 yards on the ground. Sophomore Cameron Lyles ran for 152 yards on 11 carries while Marlete Joyner added 104 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown, on 12 carries.

Kennedale led 23-7 at the half as Joyner broke a 22-yard run, and the Wildcats scored a defensive touchdown on the 33-yard interception by Sallis. Also for the Wildcats, Aidan Birr kicked three first-half field goals of 22, 26 and 33 yards.

Brownwood, which fell behind 23-0 without running an offensive play Kennedale’s half of the field, came alive late in the second quarter. Espinoza completed passes of 35 and 26 yards to Revada, and the 26-yarder went for a touchdown with 1:22 left in the second quarter that pulled the Lions within 23-7.

Espinoza’s 35-yard pass to Revada converted a third-and-24, and the 26-yard completion came on third-and-17. The long pass plays helped Brownwood compensate for being limited to a minus-9 yards on 10 rushing attempts in the first half.

The Wildcats took advantage of excellent field position to take their early lead, starting their first three possessions at the Lions’ 25-, 26- and 40-yard lines.