Following a grueling pre-district schedule in which all four games were decided by a total of nine points, the Brownwood Lions appeared poised for the District 3-4A Division I race. But the Abilene Wylie Bulldogs had other plans Friday night, collecting a seventh straight victory over the Lions in convincing fashion, 35-13, at Gordon Wood Stadium.
“My first thoughts are we’re just not there yet,” said Lions first-year head coach Kyle Maxfield. “Wylie’s the machine they always are and we had them on the ropes, but with self-inflicted wounds, you cannot beat a team like that. It seems like those things rear their head in the most critical moments. They are things we can correct, but we have to do it in a hurry.”
The Lions committed a pair of turnovers, were penalized seven times for 67 yards, allowed a kick return for a touchdown and failed on both an extra-point attempt and a two-point try following the same score.
Brownwood closed the gap to 21-13 at the 2:28 mark of the third quarter on an 8-yard run by Harley Price — who rushed for a season-best 63 yards and scored his first touchdown.
On Wylie’s ensuing drive, it appeared Hayden Tunnell had dragged down Bulldog quarterback Zach Smith for a 10-yard sack on third-and-nine from the Bulldog 45, but Smith rolled over Tunnell’s body, got up and continued to run while several Lions watched assuming the play was over. The whistle was never blown and Smith — who finished with 107 rushing yards for the game — picked up 23 yards down to the Brownwood 32.
The Brownwood coaches and players protested vehemently to no avail.
“I know (defensive coordinator) Coach (Sam) Gillispie was disappointed in the way we tackled tonight,” Maxfield said. “We had made strides with our tackling, especially against Giddings, but tonight we went backward and Wylie took advantage of it. Their quarterback is a good player, but we should have had him a few times.”
An offsides call, a personal foul and pass interference in the end zone followed for the Lions the remainder of the drive, which was capped by 1-yard run from Smith to boost the Bulldog lead to 28-13 with 8:54 left.
The Lions — who finished with 317 yards, 180 on the ground and 137 through the air — went three-and-out on their next drive, failing to convert a third-and-17.
Wylie — which amassed 392 yards, including 268 rushing on 42 carries — took over with 7:10 left and gave the ball back with 2:45 remaining after a 15-yard touchdown run from Brooks Pepper — his second of the night — stretched the Bulldogs’ lead to 35-13.
“I’m not surprised when you make the mistakes that we made on both sides of the ball and the kicking game,” Maxfield said of the final 22-point margin “They beat us in all phases of the game and hats off to them. The positive thing is our effort’s there, we play hard but sometimes we don’t play smart and that’s what’s frustrating. Those are self-inflicted wounds we have to cut out.”
For the fourth consecutive game, the Lions allowed a touchdown on the game-opening drive as Wylie traveled 92 yards in just five plays before Smith — who completed 8 of 13 passes for 84 yards — connected with Cason Grant on a 16-yard touchdown.
The Lions turned away Wylie on three more trips inside the Brownwood 35 in the first half — including an interception by Jeremy Brown at the 3 just before halftime.
But the Lions also missed a chance of their own to pull even in the first period. After a 45-yard completing from McLane Moore — who threw for 137 yards — to leading receiver Crystan Wright, Gavin Jefferson — who rushed for a team-high 100 yards — followed with a 6-yard carry down to the Wylie 16 before slipping on the tuf.
On the next snap, the Lions fumbled on an option attempt, which Wylie’s Dion Novil scooped and returned to the 50. Novil was stripped of the ball there, however, and Brown recovered for the Lions. Given new life near midfield, the Lions immediately fumbled again, which Wylie recovered.
Brownwood found the end zone on its first full possession of the second period, needing just two plays to do so. Following a 26-yard Wylie punt — the Bulldogs’ only punt of the contest — Moore connected with Corleone Pressley for an 18-yard gain down the Wylie 30. On the next play, Jefferson took a direct snap and darted through the Bulldog defense for a touchdown. Rylan Reagan’s extra-point attempt was blocked, but Wylie was flagged for being offsides, then the Lions were unable to punch the ball in from the 1 on the two-point conversion.
Down 7-6 with 7:54 left in the half, the Lions kicked off to Wylie’s Brady Horn, who bobbled, dropped and kicked the ball before picking it up and racing 95 yards to the end zone to push Wylie’s lead to 14-6.
“We overran the coverage and you see that so many times,” Maxfield said. “We go over in practice but we over-pursued when he bobbled it. Going into the half it should have been 7-7.”
Brownwood began the second half with the ball and advanced to the Wylie 28 before the drive stalled. Wylie responded with a 72-yard, seven-play drive that culminated with a 13-yard touchdown run by Pepper that extended the Bulldogs’ edge to 21-6 at the 6:04 mark of the third period.
The Lions fired back with a 56-yard, 10-play trek that ended with Price’s touchdown, but Brownwood failed to score again.
“What’s disappointing is we didn’t bring our ‘A’ game tonight,” Maxfield said. “I feel like we have more in the tank than we’re showing, but I still believe we’re going to get there.”
Next week, the Lions visit Stephenville (1-5) which had its district bye Friday night. The Yellow Jackets’ lone win came at the hands of Graham, 55-28, a team Brownwood defeated by a 34-30 count in Week 2.
Abilene Wylie 35, Lions 13
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Abilene Wylie 7 7 7 14 - 35
Brownwood 0 6 7 0 - 13
W: Cason Grant 16 pass from Zach Smith (Cameron Hanna kick), 9:46, 1st
B: Gavin Jefferson 30 run (run failed), 7:54, 2nd
W: Brady Horn 95 kick return (Hanna kick), 7:46, 2nd
W: Brooks Pepper 13 run (Hanna kick), 6:04, 3rd
B: Harley Price 8 run (Rylan Reagan kick), 2:28, 3rd
W: Smith 1 run (Hanna kick), 8:34, 4th
W: Pepper 15 run (Hanna kick), 2:45, 4th
First Downs 25 17
Total Offense 392 317
Rushes-Yards 42-268 37-180
Passing Yards 124 137
C-A-I 11-17-1 9-18-0
Fumbles Lost 1 2
Penalties 10-66 7-57
Punts 1-26.0 2-39.5
W: Brooks Pepper 17-109, Zach Smith 13-107, Cameron Hanna 3-22, Cole Burke 3-19, Cason Grant 5-9, Nick Ortiz 1-2. B: Gavin Jefferson 24-100, Harley Price 9-63, McLane Moore 6-17.
W: Smith 8-13-0-84, Burke 3-6-1-40. B: Moore 9-17-0-127, Jeremy Brown 0-1-0-0.
W: Tyler Henson 4-41, Pepper 2-37, Gatlin Martin 2-23, Grant 2-22, Hanna 1-1. B: Corleone Pressley 3-42, Blaine Hughes 3-31, Crystan Wright 2-50, Braden Jetton 1-14.