Brownwood Lions try to regroup for matchup with No. 5 China Spring

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin
Brownwood's Chance Jones (6) prepares to handoff to Konlyn Anderson (2) while Taylor Bessent (27) blocks in the Lions' 58-55 season-opening win over Lampasas on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.

The Brownwood Lions don’t have time to sulk about last week’s 21-20 loss to the Greenwood Rangers – a game the Lions led 20-6 in the second half.

Next on the nondistrict schedule is a 7:30 p.m. Friday football game at the China Spring Cougars, ranked No. 5 in Class 4A Division II. The undefeated Cougars (2-0) own wins this season of 49-15 over Addison Trinity Christian and 21-13 over Lorena. China Spring also beat the 4A Division I Lions 35-14 last year.

The Lions are 1-1 this season, including a 58-55 opening-night win over Lampasas.

Brownwood’s meltdown last week at Greenwood came in a couple of layers.

The first was on the field. Brownwood lost a 20-6 second-half lead, in part, because of 12 penalties for 112 yards and two fumbles. Even after falling behind 21-20 in the fourth quarter, the Lions inherited the ball at the Rangers’ 19-yard line after a short punt with a chance to regain the lead. But after losing 25 yards in penalties for holding and unsportsmanlike conduct, the threat ended at the Rangers’ 31.

Brownwood also couldn’t score with two running plays from inside the Greenwood 1 in the first half.

“Our defense kept us in the game in the first half,” Lions head coach Sammy Burnett said this week. “In the second half, we lost our focus with turnovers and penalties. The penalties put us behind the chains. There’s not much you can do when you’re facing too many third-and-20s.”

Another layer to the Lions’ meltdown at Greenwood was less visible to spectators. It has more to do with the team’s overall mindset.

“My message to our players after the game was that they have to believe in their coaches and teammates,” Burnett said. “You need to be willing and ready if we need you to go out and play on special teams or play at another position during the course of a game. If we’re not willing to do that, we’re not going to win.

“Teams that face up to adversity shouldn’t fall apart. When you’re down, you need to call on your coaches and teammates.”

In its two games, China Spring has relied heavily on the running of senior quarterback Major Bowden, who has rushed for 335 yards, averaging 9.6 yards per carry, and passed for 77 yards and two touchdowns. Bowden has broken runs of 60, 51 and 46 yards already this season.

Bowden, who played for Brownwood through his freshman season, ran for 100 yards and passed for a score last year against the Lions.

China Spring sophomore running back Kyle Barton has rushed for 163 yards and a 6.8 per-carry average.

“They run the option with Major Bowden all kinds of ways and in different formations,” Burnett said. “They’ll run the traditional option and the power read. The triple option is all it is. Our defense can’t give up the big play, and we’ve got to get off the field on third down.”

China Spring also has produced big plays on defense and special teams. Against Addison, junior Tre Hafford returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown. Against Lorena, junior Jaylen Trotter returned an interception 53 yards for a score. The Cougars’ defense intercepted three passes against Lorena and held the Leopards to 142 total yards.

“There’s no doubt they’re very athletic and physical on defense,” Burnett said of the Cougars. “They fly to the football. Their safeties run downhill to the ball, and they defend screen passes very well.

“We have to be more physical. We have the ability, but will we? That’s the question,” Burnett said.

Brownwood’s defense also made a big play last week on Cole Miller’s 42-yard interception return for a touchdown that staked the Lions to a 13-0 halftime lead over Greenwood.

To win at China Spring, Brownwood’s defense must limit the Cougars’ big plays, especially in the option running game. On offense, the Lions must control the ball with their running game, which sets up the pass and also keeps the Cougars’ offense off the field.

Brownwood junior Konlyn Anderson has rushed for 411 yards and four touchdowns in two games. Elias Huerta-Doud caught four passes for 84 yards last week, including a 68-yard touchdown from quarterback Chance Jones. Jones was just 12-of-30 passing overall, although he was the victim of at least six dropped balls and multiple long-yard situations because of the 12 penalties.