Brownwood closes out regular season at No. 2 Stephenville

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin
Stephenville running back Kason Philips motors down the field against Brownwood in 2020.

The Brownwood Lions, having secured their 13th consecutive playoff berth last week, can take their best shot with nothing to lose against the No. 2-ranked Stephenville Yellow Jackets on Friday.

The Lions and Yellow Jackets meet for the 81st time in the Battle of Highway 377 at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium in Stephenville. The Jackets are 9-0 overall, 4-0 in District 5-4A Division I, and they are closing in on the district championship. The Lions are 4-5 and 2-2, but they’ve won their last two games against Alvarado and Waxahachie by a combined 105-48 to clinch a playoff berth.

“We need to go out and be confident in who we are and what we’re doing,” Brownwood fourth-year head coach Sammy Burnett said this week. “We want to go out and play fast against one of the toughest Class 4A teams in the state. It’s the Battle of 377, so everybody will be fired up.

“We need to go out, play fast and see if this game can make us a better team going into the playoffs.”

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.

Brownwood will play the winner of Friday’s Kennedale-Benbrook game next week in the 4A DI bidistrict playoff opener.

Stephenville was picked third in the district in almost every preseason poll, and some even suggested the Jackets would be rebuilding this season. But they quickly emerged into a 4A DI power and beat state-ranked Waco La Vega (35-7) and Midlothian Heritage (38-27) to sit atop the district standings.

Everybody raves about Stephenville’s offense, but the defense is why the Jackets are considered a threat to win state. The Jackets’ defense is allowing just 12 points per game – a 25-point improvement over this time last season – and has 32 takeaways this year.

Linebacker Reese Young, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior, averages 16.6 tackles per game and has nine sacks. Senior linebacker Corbin Poston has added 72 tackles while senior Austin Brown has logged 13 sacks.

“Young is the best middle linebacker we’ve seen all year,” Burnett said. “He’s a next-level player. He’s a powerlifter and a real specimen. He had a broken hand last year.

“They create turnovers, so we have to take care of the ball. We need to do a good job on first and second downs, so we have a chance on third down.”

Stephenville receiver Jackson Barkley (27) fends off a would-be tackler after catching a pass in a 2020 game against Brownwood.

As they have for almost 30 years, the Jackets also have a strong passing offense. Junior quarterback Ryder Lambert (6-1, 180) has completed 69 percent of his passes for 2,351 yards and 32 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Coy Eakin, a 6-3, 190-pound senior receiver, has 56 catches for 1,126 yards and 19 TDs. Reece Elston, another 6-foot receiver, has 48 catches and five TDs, and the Jackets have three others with 11-plus receptions.

The Jackets’ running game has been by committee this year, with Lambert, sophomore Tate Maruska and junior Julian Iribarren combining for 1,750 yards and 17 TDs.

“Their offense is powerful,” Burnett said. “They’ve got a big offensive line and two tall receivers. They can run the ball, but they don’t pound it. They’d rather throw it.

“We’ll have to beat them with our quickness. They’re going to score points because they’ve scored points on everybody all year. But our defense has to get off the field when we have those opportunities.”

The Stephenville offense against the Brownwood defense doesn’t appear to be a favorable matchup for the Lions. The Jackets average 44 points per game while the Lions allow 39 points and 462 total yards per start.

Brownwood defenders Dryden Anderson, Quentin Thompson and Jaylan Brown have combined to make 219 tackles this season. The secondary, led by safety Jordan Leach and two-way starter Jason Jackson, figures to be tested early and often Friday.

Offensively, the Lions average 35 points and 405 yards per game, and they’ve played well in district. That’s primarily because of the improvement of junior quarterback Chance Jones, who has 1,638 yards combined rushing and passing. His one interception is a key reason the Lions have a plus-seven turnover margin.

As always this season, Brownwood will try to control the ball with Konlyn Anderson, who has rushed for 1,685 yards and 19 touchdowns.

“The kids have played pretty consistently the last two weeks,” Burnett said. “We played better defensively last week. We made a stop and jumped on them (Waxahachie Life) early. We did what we wanted on offense and played well in the kicking game.”