Every Texas high school football team begins the season dreaming about playing Thanksgiving week. For a handful of Big Country 11-man teams, that dream is a reality.
It’s a gratifying week for Brownwood. The Lions haven’t played on Thanksgiving week since 2019, a 42-14 third-round loss to Argyle.
“It’s a blessing, that’s for sure,” Brownwood coach Sammy Burnett said. “The kids worked hard and deserve that opportunity.”
No. 9 Brownwood (10-2) plays Wichita Falls High (8-4) at 7 p.m. Friday in a Region II-4A Division I semifinal game at ACU’s Wildcat Stadium.
Canyon Randall (9-3) plays Decatur (9-3) in the other Region II-4A DI semifinal at 1 p.m. Friday at ACU.
It’s been quite a season for the Lions. They won a total of seven games the previous two years combined, including a 3-7 mark in 2020. Brownwood made the playoffs both years, losing to Kennedale in the first round each time.
The Lions planted the seeds to this year’s success three years ago. A small senior class forced Burnett to bring up several sophomores. They had to play, too.
“They weren’t really ready to play, but we had to have them for numbers,” said Burnett, a 1988 Brownwood grad. “They sort of learned through trial by fire.”
Burnett saw a lot of promise in those sophomores at the time, and he had some concerns about throwing them into the fire at such a young age.
“It would have been nice to have kept them on the JV,” Burnett said. “At one time, we had 13 sophomores playing on the varsity. We knew they weren’t ready, but we just didn’t have as strong a senior class as we needed just by numbers. We had some good seniors, just not enough of them. So, we had to pull those guys up, and they had to play. They took their lumps and dealt with it.”
Well, those sophomores have grown up, and they’ve been strengthened by their experiences.
“They know what it takes,” Burnett said. “They worked extremely hard in the off-season and had high expectations for themselves. They had great unity and team leadership. They’ve done a great job this year of leading by example.”
Anderson, Hall lead Lions offense
The Lions have a powerful 1-2 punch in senior running back Konlyn Anderson and junior quarterback Ike Hall.
Anderson leads the team with 1,509 yards and 25 TDs on 249 carries, while Hall has 891 yards and 12 TDs on 116 carries.
“Konlyn’s a great, tough running back, then you throw Ike Hall in the mix when he needs to read it, pull it,” Burnett said. “He’s real explosive. So, you have a dual-threat quarterback.”
Hall has thrown for 1,709 yards and 15 TDs with five interceptions.
The Lions also have a good, fast receiving corps in Thad Hinds (40 catches, 794 yards, 7 TDs), Jordyn Leach (25-375, 1 TD) and Jason Jackson (19-413, 9 TDs). All three seniors can stretch the field and make big plays.
Yet, Burnett loves the fact those three do the little things that go unnoticed.
“They’re not selfish,” Burnett said. “They know if we’re going to run the ball 50 times, then they’re going to go out and get 50 blocks. It’s a team effort. I’m pleased with the kid’s attitudes. They have a desire to win, not a desire to build their stats.”
While the skilled guys get all the attention, Burnett said it’s the guys in the trenches – Isaac Gray, Roan Aguinaga, Chris Robinson, Damian Sanchez and Slayde Espinoza -- that make it all go.
“We’re good up front,” Burnett said. “We’ve got five seniors who work extremely hard, work well together. They set the tone for us.”
Defense steps up
The Lions have reeled off six consecutive victories since losing at then No. 1 Stephenville 42-21 in the final non-district game. They’ve outscored opponents 446-50 in that span, allowing no more than 14 points in a game.
Brownwood beat El Paso Irvin 63-0 and Canyon 31-10 in its two playoff games thus far.
“I think defense wins championships, and our defense has played extremely well,” Burnett said. “We’ve just stymied people in the run game. We’ve got to continue to do that and be strong on the back end when throw the football. We’ve got make plays and not give up big plays. I really think we’re led by our defense.”
Sam Kallman leads the Lions with 114 tackles (61 solo), followed by Chance Jones (112, 60 solo, five sacks) and Quinten McCarty (110, 57 solo).
Brownwood’s recipe for success has been a simple one – don’t turn the ball over, cut down on penalties and limit big plays. When the Lions have done that, they’ve won. When they haven’t, they’ve lost. That’s what happened in the season opener against Wylie, a six-point loss, and then the Stephenville game.
The Bulldogs still are playing and the Yellow Jackets just bowed out of the playoffs.
“We’ve lost two games this year, and, honestly, we felt like both of those were our fault,” Burnett said. “We had turnovers and had opportunities to win the game but didn’t do it.
To their credit, the Lions stayed strong after each loss.
“Our kids didn’t hold their heads,” Burnett said. “They took it as a teaching tool to figure out what we need to do to get better and focus on that and have a stronger mindset going into the next game and play every play, not take them for granted.”
Coyotes come calling
If the Lions’ season is going to continue after Thanksgiving week and into December, something the program hasn’t done since 2015 when it lost to Wylie in the region title game, then Brownwood must beat Wichita Falls.
The Coyotes are experiencing their first winning season since going 8-4 in 2014. They are making their first third-round appearance since losing to Wichita Falls Rider in 2019 and second since losing to Aledo in the region final in 2013.
“Wichita Falls is a good team, Burnett said. “They’ve got a good quarterback. He’s got a couple of good running backs, some good receivers. They’re very fast on defense.”
John Ledesma, a senior quarterback, has thrown for 1,887 yards and 18 TDs with six interceptions. Junior WR Ke’ondrae Fleeks (38-567, 7 TDs) and senior WR Caden Justice (32-431, 4 TDs) are the leading receivers, while senior Cameron Gould (165-1,224, 12 TDs) and freshman Eric Powell (120-633, 6 TDs) are the Coyotes’ top running backs.
The Coyotes, who have beaten Dumas 15-10 and Big Spring 31-7 in the playoffs, lost to two teams that are still playing past Turkey day in Randall 44-38 and Decatur 31-27 (OT). Their other two losses were to Rider 58-10 and Graham 45-31.
“They’ve been successful, beat some good teams,” Burnett said. “So, we’re going to have our hands full. We’ll try to have a good game plan, go out there and don’t get penalized, don’t turn the ball over and don’t give up big plays, then we can be successful.”
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Brownwood thrilled to still be playing football on Thanksgiving week