80th Battle of 377
The football war between the Stephenville Yellow Jackets and the Brownwood Lions is never just another game.
The 2020 matchup — in what has become known over the years as The Battle of 377 — will be happening a few weeks sooner than anyone expected.
This time it’s the District 5-4A Division I opener, instead of the final game of the regular-season schedule.
And this time it will be a landmark in the long rivalry — the 80th meeting between the two schools in football. Brownwood holds the all-time series lead, with 47 wins and 30 losses. The two teams have tied twice.
Head coach Sterling Doty’s 2-3 Yellow Jackets will travel to 2-3 Brownwood for their 7:30 p.m. game Friday, at Gordon Wood Stadium.
“It’s a great opening district matchup between two teams that have a lot of history together, and big-time rivals,” Doty said, noting that there seems to be a lot of mutual respect between the two schools. “Both staffs respect each other for what they are doing, on and off the field.”
The Lions are coming off a 28-7 loss Friday at home to former district foe Abilene Wylie (formerly in District 7-4A), which is now a Class 5A school.
The SHS schedule is one of the most difficult in the state, featuring three top 10 Class 5A Division I opponents (No. 2 Lampasas, No. 3 Waco La Vega and No. 8 Melissa). The Jackets finished their non-district schedule with a 46-33 triumph over previously unbeaten Dumas Sept. 24 in Lubbock.
Last year’s SHS-Brownwood meeting resulted in a 38-22 win for the Lions over the Yellow Jackets. That ended a two-game win streak for Stephenville in the series — which began in 1937 with a 7-0 win for the Jackets.
The Lions, who had earned seven state football championships in their history, had the upper hand for most of the series until Stephenville’s rise to the elite level began in the 1990s under former head coach Art Briles. The Jackets won back-to-back state championships in 1992-1993 as well as 1998-1999, despite challenges from stout Brownwood squads during that same time frame.
Brownwood and Stephenville both are prominently featured on the list of schools in Texas with the most state championships. The Lions are tied for sixth with three other schools for the second-most state football titles, with seven. Stephenville added its fifth state football title in 2012.
Both Doty and Brownwood head coach Sammy Burnett played football for their respective schools, although not during the same time frame.
Burnett played for the Lions in the mid-1980s, when the school was transitioning from one legendary coach — Gordon Wood — to another, Randy Allen. Both Burnett and assistant coach David Jones played for Wood and Allen. Wood retired at age 71 — the winningest coach at that time — and Burnett then played his junior and senior years under Allen.
Wood finished his career with 394 victories, which is now fourth in Texas high school football history. Among active high school football coaches in Texas, Allen (now Highland Park’s coach) ranks second all-time with more than 400 wins.
Doty, a 2001 SHS graduate, played center for the Yellow Jackets on both of the 1998-99 squads and was part of three varsity football teams that defeated the Lions.
“I think we had some great battles. Those three years we all really good battles,” Doty said. “Both are blue-collar towns with great tradition.”
The date for the SHS-Brownwood game changed when officials from all six schools in the district alignment voted to move the three games that originally set for Nov. 6 to Friday, Oct. 2. That move was made in order to reserve that final week of the regular season for any district game that might have to be postponed due to COVID-19.
Second-ranked and 3-0 Lampasas (41-0) and No. 7 and 5-0 Melissa (65-58) handed SHS two of its losses. The Yellow Jackets’ other came against 4-1 Salado, a team that has only one loss (21-7), which was was to the defending state champion in Class 3A Division I, Grandview, currently ranked No. 2 with a 4-0 record.
THE TASK AT HAND
The Lions opened their season with a 55-23 loss to Lampasas, followed by a 25-15 win over Greenwood. They lost by a 35-14 margin to China Spring, before beating Burnet 36-22.
“They’re an explosive football team with some good playmakers,” Doty said of the Lions. “They are really good up front. Their offensive and defensive lines are dominant.”
Among the top offensive threats for Brownwood are running back Royshad Henderson along with sophomore quarterback Chance Jones — whose dad is assistant coach David Jones.
Defensive stalwarts for the Lions include nose guard Chris Hobbs, and safety Khyren Deal.
Not including the shutout loss to Lampsas, the SHS offense has been a scoring machine — racking up 207 points for an average of 51.75 points in the other four games.
Their upset win over Dumas may turn out to be a turning point for the Yellow Jackets as their defense shows signs that it could be improving, combined with the fact some injured players will be returning to action soon.
“That gives us a lot of momentum,” Doty said of knocking off Dumas. “We were excited about starting this week. We want to continue to grow as a football team.
“We were able to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands, and they made plays. Offensively I think we have some really good football players that are experienced and dynamic. It starts with our offensive line.”
As for the defensive effort, Doty noted, “We were able to contain their running game. The defensive line played faster, and more physical. I think they’re getting more confident with what we are asking them to do. They’re not thinking as much — just reacting.”
The Dumas win also marked the second game since the Jackets changed their philosophy to have far fewer two-way players through the course of the game. That has cut back on the overall fatigue factor.
“We’ve been more explosive later in the game,” Doty said.
Two defensive starters, linebackers Colton Accomazzo and Bryson Dill, have been cleared to rejoin the team for practice this week.
Dylanjer Meiron will remain sidelined for a couple more weeks, Doty said, Nd Ruben Reyes will be out at least one more week.
The scoring roundup for Thursday’s win over Dumas, published in last Saturday’s E-T, highlighted an incredible night turned in by Yellow Jackets’ quarterback Gavin Rountree. He had a hand in six touchdowns — four passing and two rushing.
Other statistics now available show that Rountree passed for 291 yards, completing 12 of 22 attempts with no interceptions, while also leading the way in rushing with 81 yards on nine carries.
Trace Morrison was on the receiving end for 139 of those passing yards, with two TDs on just four catches. Coy Eakin contributed three receptions for 48 yards and one TD.
Running back Kason Philips scored on a pass reception, from 48 yards out. He rushed for a team-leading 51 yards on 12 carries. Teammate Jeremiah Smith gained 13 yards on two rushing attempts.
Through five games this season, Rountree has surpassed 1,100 yards through the air. He has completed 71 of 116 for 1,137 yards and 12 TDs, with only three interceptions.
Philips leads SHS in rushing with 624 yards and eight scores on 92 carries. Rountree is second with 333 yards and seven TDs on 51 attempts.
Morrison is the leader in receiving with 26 catches for 569 yards, with six TDs. Eakin is next with 16 catches for 241 yards and two scores, followed by Reece Elston with 11 receptions for 163 yards and two TDs.
On defense, Reese Young leads SHS in total tackles with 76, including 39 solo. Kevin Bowery is second with 47 total stops followed by Morrison with 42.