Brownwood Lions look to upset Kennedale in playoff rematch

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin
Brownwood's Riley Soto (77) leads the team out onto the field before 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 learned what not to do in their bidistrict football game against the Kennedale Wildcats last year. Brownwood threw five interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns, and the Lions didn’t score on three drives inside the red zone in a 44-7 loss to the Wildcats.

Brownwood (4-6) gets another shot at Kennedale (9-1) in this year’s Class 4A Division I playoff opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Glen Rose. Same as last year, the Lions are the No. 4 seed from District 5-4A, while the Wildcats are the No. 1 seed from District 6-4A.

“It’s pretty obvious we can’t throw interceptions or fumble the ball, and we’ve got to score against a team like Kennedale when we have opportunities,” Brownwood head coach Sammy Burnett said regarding last year’s game.

Brownwood quarterback Chance Jones, who didn’t play offense in last year’s bidistrict game, has thrown just two interceptions this season.

Kennedale shut out six of its seven Fort Worth district opponents, allowing 14 points to Fort Worth Western Hills in a 40-14 decision. In a meeting of teams with perfect district records last week, Kennedale routed Benbrook 63-0 for the title.

Overall, the Wildcats’ defense has shut out seven opponents this season and is allowing 4.3 points per game. Midlothian Heritage, which Brownwood lost to 43-25 in district, handed Kennedale its only loss, 22-7, in a nondistrict game in September.

“Defensively, they’re all over the place,” Burnett said of Kennedale. “They stunt constantly. They try to get to your quarterback before he can even hand the ball off. They press man cover you in the secondary, and they’ve got good enough athletes to do that.”

Kennedale’s defense averages 14 tackles for loss per game, including 3.6 sacks. The Wildcats’ defense also has forced 26 takeaways this season for a plus-18 turnover margin. Antoine Martin has 25 tackles for loss to lead the Wildcats this season while Chris Washington has 17 tackles for loss. Jaylen Webb, one of the few juniors to start on Kennedale’s senior-heavy lineup, has intercepted four passes.

It’s no secret Brownwood wants to run the ball with Konlyn Anderson, who finished the regular season with 1,788 yards and 19 touchdowns rushing. So how do the Lions run the football successfully against the Wildcats’ stunting defense?

“We have to make the running game pretty simple for starters,” Burnett said. “We have to beat them in one-on-one situations – both at the line of scrimmage and in the secondary against their press man coverage. Basically, we have to beat somebody one-on-one.

“There’s no doubt we have to run the ball because you can’t just depend on the pass against a defense like Kennedale’s. I’m not sure how much teams tried to keep running on them this year. When they couldn’t run against them initially, some teams gave up and started trying to pass. We have to handle the line of scrimmage, be patient and keep pounding the ball.”

Offensively, the Wildcats have just the opposite personality from their stunting, gambling style of defense. They mainly pound the ball with a power running game that has produced 46 touchdowns this season compared to just five passing TDs.

Seniors EJ Higgins (754 yards), Jerree Mills (417 yards) and Kenaj Washington (391 yards) lead a balanced rushing offense, and junior Cameron Lyles has produced seven touchdowns with just 30 carries. Senior quarterback Paul Donkor is a modest 21-of-49 passing for 315 yards and four TDs, and the junior Webb is the only receiver with double-digit catches with 11.

“They don’t throw it much,” Burnett said. “They’re going to pound it, pound it, pound it.”

Kennedale also has a weapon in kicker/punter Aidan Birr, who typically kicks off into the end zone, forcing opponents to start from their 25-yard line. Birr also can flip the field with his punting.

For Brownwood, Jones finished the regular season with 1,103 yards and 15 touchdowns passing. Jason Jackson caught nine touchdown passes during the regular year, but the Lions will need production from their other receivers – led by Elias Huerta-Doud and Thad Hinds – against Kennedale’s pressing man coverage.

Defensively, the Lions’ front has to hold up against the Wildcats’ power running game.

The winner of this game will move on to the area round to face Argyle or Wilmer-Hutchins.