Brownwood Lions open district gauntlet with No. 9-ranked Midlothian Heritage

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin
Brownwood receiver Jason Jackson (18) tries to break a tackle during Friday's game against Wylie at Hugh Sandifer Stadium on Sept. 24, 2021. The Lions couldn't overcome a 42-0 deficit in the 49-21 loss.

The Brownwood Lions open what figures to be a gauntlet of a District 5-4A Division I football schedule with Friday’s 7:30 p.m. home game against the Midlothian Heritage Jaguars, the No. 9-ranked team in the state.

Heritage will enter Gordon Wood Stadium with a 4-1 record, while Brownwood is 2-3. Even though this is the second year in the UIL realignment cycle, the Lions and Jaguars didn’t play last year after COVID reshuffled the district schedule, and their regular-season finale was canceled since it couldn’t impact the playoff seedings.

In the next UIL realignment in February, Heritage figures to elevate to Class 5A since its enrollment reportedly is well over the 1,230 border between 4A and 5A used for the 2020 realignment.

The rugged District 5-4A DI schedule also includes No. 6 Waco La Vega next week and No. 2 Stephenville on Nov. 5. But let’s take this one powerhouse opponent at a time.

Brownwood’s goal Friday is to play its first complete game of the season for four quarters. The Lions have had issues on offense, defense, special teams and with penalties at various times during their nondistrict slate.

Brownwood coach Sammy Burnett talks to his team following Friday's game against Wylie at Hugh Sandifer Stadium on Sept. 24, 2021. The Lions couldn't overcome a 42-0 deficit in the 49-21 loss.

“Whether it’s playing one half and not the other, playing well on offense or defense but not both, or being slowed down by penalties, we have yet to play a complete game where we win in all three phases for four full quarters,” fourth-year Lions’ head coach Sammy Burnett said this week.

“If we want to play with a team like Heritage, we have to do that. If we don’t put together a complete game in all three phases and play with great physicality and passion, we’ll get beat. That’s the bottom line,” said Burnett, whose team averages 74 penalty yards per game.

Asked what is preventing his team from putting together a complete game, Burnett said, “A lack of discipline, not focusing on our job, not playing with passion and not paying attention to detail.”

The coach didn’t mention that his junior-heavy lineup is comprised mostly of underclassmen.

Burnett said Brownwood’s overall offensive and defensive philosophies remained intact after last week’s open date. On defense, the Lions’ top priority is to stop the run and make opposing offenses one dimensional. The Lions haven’t really done that this season, allowing an average of 267 rushing yards and 451 total yards per game. They’re also allowing 41.6 points per game going against a Heritage offense that averages 39.4 points.

Brownwood's Quenton Thompson (23) brings down Wylie's Trey Gomez (22) during Friday's game at Hugh Sandifer Stadium on Sept. 24, 2021. The Lions couldn't overcome a 42-0 deficit in the 49-21 loss.

The Jaguars can run and pass, and both start with dual-threat quarterback Kaden Brown, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior who’s completing 65% of his passes for 209 yards per game. Brown also averages 6.3 yards per carry and has scored eight rushing TDs.

Junior Jason Barela is also a dual threat for the Jaguars, rushing for 72 yards per game with four touchdowns and catching 13 passes, including two TDs.

Heritage’s top receivers, sophomore Antonio Pride and junior Xavier Moten, have combined for 38 catches and five TDs.

“They’ve done whatever they’ve wanted to do on offense,” Burnett said of the Jaguars. “They’ve got a big offensive line, two tall receivers, and their quarterback is a dual-threat stud.”

Brownwood’s defense charged with slowing down Heritage is led in tackles by linebackers Dryden Anderson with 49, Jaylan Brown with 41 and Quentin Thompson with 38. The Lions’ defense is still without its two starting cornerbacks from the season opener. Noah Barron is out for the season after shoulder surgery, and Case Markham is still sidelined with a concussion.

Brownwood's Konlyn Anderson (2) carries the ball during Friday's game against Wylie at Hugh Sandifer Stadium on Sept. 24, 2021. The Lions couldn't overcome a 42-0 deficit in the 49-21 loss.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, Brownwood’s offense needs a big night from its running game – which means the linemen and junior back Konlyn Anderson, who has rushed for 949 yards and seven TDs in five games. Moving the chains and keeping the clocking ticking would minimize time on the field for the Heritage offense.

The Lions’ line, anchored by third-year starter Ethan Pesina, hopes to have tackle Damian Sanchez, who was slowed by an ankle injury.

Brownwood still needs more consistency from its passing game, which is averaging 120 yards per game. Junior Jason Jackson has 22 receptions and five TDs, but senior Elias Huerta-Doud with 13 catches is the only other receiver with double-digit catches.

Brownwood quarterback Chance Jones (6) carries the ball during Friday's game against Wylie at Hugh Sandifer Stadium on Sept. 24, 2021. The Lions couldn't overcome a 42-0 deficit in the 49-21 loss.

The good news in the passing game is that junior quarterback Chance Jones has an 8-to-1 touchdowns to interceptions ratio. That has helped the Lions to a plus-3 turnover margin halfway through the regular season.

Brownwood’s offense will match up against a Heritage defense that allows 21 points per game and is led by safety Solomon Hopkins, a 6-0 junior who has 47 tackles; and secondary back Rylan Figueroa, a junior with two fumble recoveries and one interception.

Observers questioned Heritage after a 48-28 setback to a two-loss Melissa team three weeks ago. But that doesn’t seem like a bad loss now after Melissa’s 21-0 shutout last week of Argyle, the former No. 1-ranked team in 4A DI.