Lions, Springtown meet in regional semifinals


The Brownwood Lions reached the Class 4A Division I Region I semifinals last year before their season came an unwanted and unexpected end on a rainy Black Friday night at Abilene Christian University.

Fast forward a year and the No. 6 Lions (11-1) again have the opportunity to advance to the Class 4A Division I Region I championship game, but must first get past the Springtown Porcupines (9-3) at 7 p.m. Friday at Crowley ISD Stadium.

It’s something we’ve talked about since offseason in the spring,” Lions sixth-year head coach Sammy Burnett said of last year’s season-ending loss to Wichita Falls. “We feel like we have unfinished business and lost a game we should have won by turning the ball over, which is our fault and we’ve taken ownership. We wanted an opportunity to get back to this point and rectify that and now we just have to go our and finish the task and stay hungry, and not for just this Friday. There’s no finish point until we get to AT&T Stadium. Our will is go all the way and if that’s the Lord will, it will happen.”

Springtown and the Lions have two common regular opponents as the Porcupines defeated both Waco Connally (22-19) and Glen Rose (51-27). Meanwhile, Brownwood knocked off Connally (31-28) and Glen Rose (46-34). Also, the Lions scrimmaged Decatur in the preseason where a total of one touchdown was scored, while Springtown faced the reigning Region I champion in district action and fell, 23-17.

We haven’t seen those films, the scores were similar to ours, but how they were against them doesn’t matter,” Burnett said. “From what we have seen we feel good. On the talent scale we’re both right there, but we feel like there’s some areas we can attack and some things we can do that puts them in a difficult position.”

The other two losses for the Porcupines occurred the first two weeks of the season against Alvarado (48-41) and Graham (36-15), teams that were eliminated from the postseason this past weekend.

Springtown enters the contest averaging 42 points and 418 yards per game – 273 rushing and 145 passing – per game. The Porcupines racked up a season-high 582 total yards and 319 passing yards in last week’s 62-21 victory over El Paso Riverside. The most rushing yards for the Porcupines were their 428 yards against Glen Rose.

The Porcupines will be without the services of quarterback Hudson Hulett Friday night, as he suffered a broken leg in the third quarter of last week’s win over Riverside. For the season, Hulett had completed 151 of 276 passes for 1,751 yards with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, while rushing for 865 yards and 13 scores.

Coach (Brian) Hulett’s a good guy, I’ve known him for a long time and he’s son been the quarterback there for three years,” Burnett said. “He’s a phenomenal kid and from what I understand is a leader in his class and has a lot leadership roles in the school, not just on the football field. It’s a big blow for them.”

How Springtown will replace Hulett is a mystery to the Lions coaching staff.

For us, the difference is the unknown,” Burnett said. “What are they going to do? How does their game plan change? Are they going to change what they do for the quarterback that they have. Their quarterback knew how to run that offense, but potentially they have three guys who can play quarterback. We’re going to be prepared for everything that we’ve seen, and for what we haven’t seen we’ll adjust to as quickly as possible to have a chance to be successful.”

The Porcupines still have plenty of offensive weapons and don’t have to leave the backfield to find them. Drake Doggett has rushed for 1,297 yards and 17 touchdowns while Nathan Johnson has contributed 945 yards and 16 scores on the ground. Receiving threats for Springtown include Brayden Fox (44-503, 7 TDs), Dylan Crutchfield (26-225, 3 TDs), Kelby Castro (21-276, 3 TDs), and Braydon Butler (19- 274, 3 TDs).

They’re big up front and remind me of Stephenville,” Burnett said. “They have two very good running backs, a tight end that’s 6-4, 235 pounds, and they have two very tall receivers. We’re going to have our hands full. We’re never as big as anybody but we’re as physical as everybody so we have to win the battle in the trenches. We have to bring our ‘A’ game and hopefully it all works in our favor.”

Springtown has committed 20 turnovers this season, however, and the Lions defense is coming off a season-high three takeaways – all interceptions – against Randall.

Brownwood’s defense yields a mere 14 points and 255 yards – 133 rushing and 122 passing – per outing, with 13 takeaways.

Leading the charge are Sam Kallman (126 tackles, 8 for loss, 6 sacks, 1 fumble recovery), Steve Ramirez (125 tackles, 8 for loss, 4 sacks, 2 INTs), Noah Gonzalez (114 tackles, 7 for loss, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery), Jake Jetton (104 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, 1 INT), Zakk Zabecki (85 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks), Weston Wolf (64 tackles, 6 for loss, 6 sacks), Quinten McCarty (64 tackles, 3 for loss, 4 sacks), Robert Trowbridge (53 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 sack), Jaylan Brown (46 tackles, 1 for loss), Cole Miller (44 tackles, 2 for loss, 3 sacks), Jordyn Nickerson (42 tackles, 1 INT), Hayden Noe (41 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 INT), and Morsello Hooker (33 tackles, 1 for loss, 3 INTs).

We have to take away what they want to do and we feel like they’re going to want to run the football,” Burnett said. “We want to make them throw the football, keep them uncomfortable, don’t let the quarterback stand in the pocket and pick us apart. We have to be sound defensively and not give up big plays. We need to do what we’ve been doing the last 12 games, play with great passion, and get it done.”

The Porcupine defense is surrendering 23 points and 331 yards – 168 passing and 163 rushing – per contest, but has forced 21 takeaways.

The unit is spearheaded by middle linebacker Yair Hernandez (131 tackles), free safety Chase Thompson (101 tackles), free safety Darren Sweely (82 tackles), linebacker Ty Parrott (65 tackles) and linebacker Landon Downes (51 tackles).

They have a good core nose guard that’s very big, a great linebacking corps and they have good guys on the back end, very tall corners,” Burnett said. “We have to stay in front of the chains. We can’t afford the penalties we had last week and expect to win. We have to make sure every time we touch the ball we’re putting points on the board and making them chase us.”

Brownwood counters with an offense that produces 41 points and 403 yards – 243 rushing and 160 passing – per outing, behind the blocking of Logan Knight, Aidan Packheiser, Davis Le, Miller and McCarty.

Quarterback Ike Hall has connected on 93 of 168 passes for 1,664 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions, while rushing for a team-best 1,491 yards and 21 touchdowns. Receiving threats include Carson Noe (33-597, 5 TDs), Aaron Edmonds (23-281, 2 TDs), Hooker (16-428, 9 TDs), Stone Ratliff (9-185, TD), Hayden Noe (6-133, TD) and Wolf (6-109, TD). Options in the backfield include Levi Pearson (570 rushing yards, 5 TDs), Brown (427 rushing yards, 8 TDs), Xavier Zepeda (173 rushing yards, 2 TDs) and Logan McKibben (119 rushing yards, 2 TDs).

Burnett added the Lions are expected to be back at full strength offensively Friday night.

According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 3- point favorite.

The difference in this game will be four or five plays that change the outcome whether that’s special teams, offense or defense, and we have to win those five plays,” Burnett said. “We know it’s going to be a knock down drag out, and all you can do is all you can do, but we have to make sure to minimize mistakes and if we do that we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win the ball game. We’re more than confident we can go out Friday night and win that game.”

Friday’s winner will face either Decatur (8-4) or Lubbock Estacado (10-2) – who meet at 4 p.m. Friday at Shotwell Stadium in Abilene – in the Class 4A Division I Region I championship game next weekend.