The Battle of 377 is one of the premiere rivalries in the state. It features two teams that have combined for 13 state football titles – seven by Brownwood and six by Stephenville.
It’s a rivalry that dates back as far as 1937, and most of the time they’ve met as district rivals – fueling the spirit between the two.
While not in the same district this year, or even the same region, both go into Friday’s game at Memorial Stadium in Stephenville ranked in the Class 4A Division I state poll.
Stephenville, the defending state champion, is ranked No. 1 and has won 21 consecutive games. Brownwood is No. 9.
It’s difficult to pass up such a game, and it’s the Reporter-News’ Big Country Game of the Week.
“It’s a rivalry that’s been here a long time, a lot of district games, and a lot of great games played between the two,” Stephenville coach Sterling Doty said. “It goes back to the Gordon Wood days and Art Briles days.”
Jackets, Lions have excellence in common
That’s a lot of history.
Wood led Brownwood to all six state titles (1960, ’65, ’67, ’69, ’70, ’78, ’81). The stadium in Brownwood is named after him.
Briles had similar success at Stephenville – leading the Yellow Jackets to their first four state titles (1993-94, 98-99). They won another with Joseph Gillespie in 2012, before Doty – a 2001 Stephenville grad – led his former team to a 16-0 championship season last year.
“It’s a great, healthy rivalry,” Brownwood coach Sammy Burnett said. “I’ve got friends there. I’m very good friends with the coaching staff. They’re good people. … (The rivalry is) good for the kids. It’s good for the community. It gives them something to look forward to. If you win this year, then you’ve got bragging rights, and next year we’ll try to beat you again.”
It wasn’t always a game Brownwood fans circled on the calendar. The Lions dominated the series during the Wood era, and Burnett, a 1988 Brownwood grad, said Cleburne was considered the team’s biggest rival.
That changed once Briles arrived in Stephenville and the Yellow Jackets became a state power and dominated the series. The Yellow Jackets won nine of 13 meetings during Briles’ tenure from 1988-99. Oddly enough, the first meeting in 1988 was a 7-7 tie.
“That tide started to change,” said Burnett, who played in the series in 1986 and 1987 – both Brownwood wins, including a 62-0 decision his senior year. “They started winning ballgames, and it really sparked up that rivalry even more. It’s been that way ever since.”
Since 2000, Stephenville has won 14 of the past 22 games, yet trails the all-time series 48-33-1 based on numbers on the Lone Star Football Network web site.
Doty, an offensive lineman who played in the 1998-2000 games, remembers that ’98 season well. The Yellow Jackets went 15-1 and won their first of two consecutive state titles. They were 16-0 the following year.
The one team that beat them during that span? You guess it, Brownwood 40-35 in the second district game of the 1998 season.
“I remember fans being in the end zones,” Doty said about the game at Memorial Stadium. “It was standing room only there at the stadium.”
They might have met in the fourth round of the playoffs that year, too, had Wichita Falls Hirschi not beaten the Lions 23-21 in the second round. Stephenville beat Hirschi 42-21 two rounds later.
It wouldn’t be until 2013 when they played each other in the postseason – Stephenville won 49-10 in the first round.
If they meet twice this year, it will be in the state semifinals. Stephenville in is in Region I, while Brownwood is in Region II.
Even though they’re no longer district rivals, both coaches were glad to get the game on the schedule these next two years.
“If you can get it on your schedule, you do everything in your power to get it on your schedule,” Burnett said.
Lions off and roaring
Burnett’s Lions are playing well.
Since a 30-24 loss to Class 5A DII Wylie in the season opener in Brownwood, the Lions have reeled off four consecutive wins – Marble Falls 55-16, Burnet 33-20, Glen Rose 17-3 and Waco Connally 57-21.
Glen Rose was state ranked, though the Tigers played without their starting quarterback, who is injured.
Ike Hall, a junior quarterback, has completed 56-of-99 passes for 899 yards and two TDs. He’s thrown two interceptions.
Senior running back Konlyn Anderson is the Lions’ top rusher (112-556, 7 TDs), followed by Hall (50-313, 6 TDs).
Thad Hinds (20-392, 3 TDs) and Jordyn Leach (17-226, 1 TD), both seniors, are the leading receivers.
Defensively, Chance Jones (44 tackles, 3 sacks), Sam Kallman (43 tackles, 2 sacks) and Quinten McCarty (42 tackles) are the leading tacklers. All are juniors except for the senior Jones.
“I’m really impressed with their offensive and defensive lines,” Doty said. “I like their quarterback. He’s a playmaker. He can beat you with his legs and beat you with his arm.
“I’m really impressed with the physicality that they’re playing on defense. I think they’ve played some quality teams that’s getting them ready for their district season.”
Burnett, whose team went 4-7 last year, including two losses to end the season (63-7 in the district finale against Stephenville and 37-7 in the playoff opener against Kennedale), attributes the Lions’ success to their team chemistry. It’s a veteran team with juniors and seniors.
“They feel that they’ve done the work in the offseason to be successful. They expect to win,” Burnett said. “We dropped a game to Abilene Wylie. We still feel bitter about that, but there’s nothing we can do about that. We’ve got to learn and move on.”
Burnett said his team has won some blowouts, while also having to fight back in others.
“I think they’re battle tested going into this week against the No. 1 team in the state,” Burnett said. “I think it’s going to be a good test where we’ll know where we’re at – if where we need to be or whether there’s areas we need to grow.”
Jackets creating a buzz
Stephenville has played games so wild you couldn’t have scripted it any crazier – and it has been a story that Yellow Jackets fans can enjoy so far.
The Jackets topped Midlothian Heritage 49-42, edged Everman 62-61, outscored Decatur 52-34 and Wylie 56-49 and rallied by Wichita Falls Rider 43-42.
The Jackets beat Everman on the final play of the game – a 16-yard TD pass from Ryder Lambert to Topher Foster.
Last week, with sophomore quarterback Ryan Gafford running the offense, the Yellow Jackets overcame an early 21-0 deficit to beat then-No. 5 5A DII Rider with a late rally.
Lambert hasn’t played since Week 2, and he might need season-ending foot surgery for a Lisfranc injury. The senior threw for 4,275 yards and 52 TDs in leading the Yellow Jackets to the state title last year, plus ran for 796 yards and 11 TDs.
“He’s been resting it with it being in a boot and on a scooter,” Doty said. “So there’s a chance we might get him back for district, and there’s a chance he might have season-ending surgery on it.”
The Yellow Jackets have continued to win, thanks in large part to junior running back Tate Maruska, who has run for a staggering 1,182 yards and 15 TDs on 150 carries. That’s a 7.9 average per carry.
No wonder Rider focused on stopping Maruska last week, and it almost worked. The Raiders held him to 125 yards, but Gafford threw for 321 yards and 5 TDs in the victory. Maruska got the game-winning TD, a 2-yard run, with 3:28 to play.
“Outside of our first two drives offensively, I thought we played well,” Doty said. “We never gave up and just refused to lose.”
Senior DB Kyler Eudy (50, 19 solo) and junior linebacker Rowdy Markland (47, 20 solo) are the Yellow Jackets’ leading tacklers.
Burnett has been impressed with the Yellow Jackets.
“They’re extremely big up front,” Burnett said. “They get a majority of their stuff on the ground. The running back is extremely good. A very fast kid.
“They’ve got a quarterback that moved in front Andrews who is playing now. He’s throwing the ball well. He had three deep balls against Wichita Falls Rider that won the game for them.”
Yet the biggest thing going for the Yellow Jackets might be the confidence that goes with winning a state title.
“They haven’t lost in 21 games,” Burnett said. “They feel confident they can win a ballgame regardless of what happens. They’ve won a couple of ballgames at the very end – the last play or near the end. Winners find a way to win. If you want to be elite, you’ve got to consistently win. Right now, I’ve got to put them both of those categories.”
Of course, living with the bull’s-eye week after week is no easy task. It can get overwhelming eventually, especially once the Yellow Jackets begin district play on Oct. 14. Then there’s that Oct. 21 date with No. 2 China Spring on the road.
Doty said he tries to keep it simple and get the players to focus on just getting better every day.
“We know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot, and we just want to make sure everybody gets ours,” Doty said.
For a game that feature some fantastic skilled players, it will likely be decided by the seemingly nameless guys in the trenches.
Win the line of scrimmage, win the ballgame.
“We’ve got to win the battles up front,” Doty said. “They’re talented on both sides. It’s not like you’re going to win it every rep. So, you’ve got to stay patient. It’s kind of like a boxing match. You’ve got to keep throwing those jabs and keep hitting in the same spot. They’ll eventually fall over, you hope.
“You have to protect the football and win the special teams battles. In rivalry games, those are the things you’ve got to do.”
Burnett said his Lions have little room for error.
“You’ve got win in all three phases of the game,” Burnett said. “You can’t make mistakes. They’re not a team you can make mistakes against.
“We’re going to have to get them off the field offensively. We’ve got to get some stops, and every time we touch the ball, we’ve got to find a way to come up with some points, where it’s a field goal or a touchdown.”
It promises to be another great game in a storied rivalry between two storied programs.
This time, it’s Brownwood that comes in trying to play David to Stephenville’s Goliath.
“What a great story to tell in the future,” Burnett said. “Brownwood rolls in, Stephenville has a 21-game win streak, No. 1 in the state, and got beat by Brownwood. What a great opportunity.”
The latter is not what the folks in Stephenville want. Then again, Yellow Jackets fans still have an aversion to the name Brownwood.
“We don’t say the B word in Stephenville,” one Yellow Jackets coach said last spring.
“There’s a lot of dislikes between the two communities in athletics and competition,” Doty said. “But I think there’s a mutual respect how both groups have good, hard-working kids and good programs on both sides. There’s some respect there. But definitely during that game, that Battle of 377, there’s a lot of energy and excitement.”
The pick: Stephenville 38, Brownwood 35
REST OF THE BEST
Stamford (5-0) at Olney (4-0)
The Bulldogs have outscored opponents 208-41 and not allowed any more than 14 points in a game.
They blasted Winters 48-12 in the District 4-2A DI opener last week in Stamford.
It’s been quite a turnaround for the Bulldogs, who were 3-7 last year and missed the playoffs.
Britt Hart, the Bulldogs’ second-year coach, was named Texas Football magazine’s Class 2A coach of the week, while nearby Aspermont coach Mark Weaver was the 1A winner.
Olney has outscored its foes 158-19. No team has scored more than seven points in a game against the Cubs this season.
You don’t want to say this is a must-win game for either team, but when you play in a district with Cisco and Hawley, there’s not much room for error. Both might still get in the playoffs, but this game could decide the seeding.
Benjamin (4-0) at Loraine (5-0)
Benjamin, ranked No. 1 in the Class 1A Division II and deemed the favorite since the summer, has been crushing opponents.
The Mustangs have scored 298 points in only four games and – get this – allowed only 12. That’s not a typo. Twelve. That’s unheard of in six-man football.
Loraine, ranked No. 5 in 1A DII, has put up 294 points, but allowed 112 – 40 and 32 against two really good teams in Klondike and Ira, respectively.
This is a great game for the Bulldogs to measure themselves against Benjamin, which is 14-1 since last season. Jayton beat the Mustangs 52-41 in the first round of the playoffs.
Still, Benjamin has to deal with wearing the bull’s-eye each week, and this is a Mustangs program that never uas played for a state title. So, it might be a good test for the Mustangs, too, and who knows? They might meet again in the state semifinals.
BIG COUNTRY POWER RANKINGS
1. Stephenville (5-0) – beat Wichita Falls Rider 43-42; Brownwood (4-1)
2. Brownwood (4-1) – beat Waco Connally 52-21; at Stephenville (5-0)
3. Breckenridge (5-0) – beat Fort Worth Benbrook 56-17; Bye
4. Comanche (4-1) – beat Albany 31-28; Bye
5. Clyde (4-1) – beat Sweetwater 29-28 (OT); Bye
1. Hawley (5-0, 1-0) – beat Anson 55-0; Bye
2. Cisco (4-1, 1-0) – beat Colorado City 52-0; at Winters (1-4, 0-1)
3. Coleman (4-1, 1-0) – beat Goldthwaite 61-0; at San Saba (4-1, 0-1)
4. Stamford (5-0, 1-0) – beat Winters 48-12; at Olney (4-0)
5. Albany (3-2) – lost to Comanche 31-28; Bye
1. Benjamin (4-0) – beat Roby 56-6; at Loraine (5-0)
2. May (4-0) – beat Garden City 63-34; Open
3. Westbrook (4-1) – lost to Garden City 46-42; Bye
4. Loraine (5-0) – beat Sands 60-15; Benjamin (4-0)
5. Gordon (4-0) – Bye; at Santa Anna (3-2)
The Battle for 377
(Brownwood leads the series 48-33-1; Scores since 2000)
2021 – Stephenville 63, Brownwood 7
2020 – Stephenville 59, Brownwood 34
2019 – Brownwood 38, Stephenville 22
2018 – Stephenville 45, Brownwood 20
2017 – Stephenville 28, Brownwood 21
2016 – Brownwood 27, Stephenville 13
2015 – Brownwood 33, Stephenville 6
2014 – Stephenville 40, Brownwood 21
2013 – Stephenville 49, Brownwood 10 (1st round playoffs)
2011 – Stephenville 66, Brownwood 0
2010 – Brownwood 49, Stephenville 16
2009 – Stephenville 35, Brownwood 0
2008 – Stephenville 31, Brownwood 28
2005 – Stephenville 49, Brownwood 10
2004 – Stephenville 52, Brownwood 38
2003 – Brownwood 28, Stephenville 21
2002 – Stephenville 24, Brownwood 21
2001 – Stephenville 17, Brownwood 7
2000 – Stephenville 27, Brownwood 13
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Brownwood, Stephenville meet in battle of Class 4A state elites