By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (October 20, 2017) — Greg Winer may only be in his third season as head coach at Stephenville, but he’s been part of more than his fair share of historic meetings with longtime rival Brownwood.
Winder was offensive coordinator for Stephenville in the first Brownwood clash with Mike Copeland serving as head coach for the Yellow Jackets in 2000. He was back for the first meeting with Joseph Gillespie being head coach in 2008, and it just so happens that week 3 game at Gordon Wood Stadium was the first Stephenville win under Gillespie, who would lead the way to the 3A Division I state title with Winder by his side.
Winder was on the sideline in 2010 when Brownwood announced with authority that was really for real, and sure enough, those Lions were not stopped until coming up inches short of a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds of a 3A Division I state semifinal.
And the year after that 49-16 loss at Brownwood, Winder enjoyed the friendly sideline of Memorial Stadium in Stephenville, where the mood was jovial and every call he made seemed to result in another big play as part of a 66-0 rout of the reloading Lions, the widest margin of victory either team has celebrated at the other’s expense.
Now, with the 76th meeting in the famed Battle of Highway 377, Winder would just like one win as head coach over the rival Lions.
“It’s been a big rivalry for so long and it always will be a big rivalry. That and you add that its’ our first district game plus them coming off a loss in their first district game and needing a win, it’s definitely about as big as a game can get this week of the season,” said Winder.
“I know all the fans and both schools and communities are exceed, and we’re excited as coaches and players. It’s a blessing to share a Friday night across from a Brownwood, or across form a Stephenville, and to challenge all the tradition and pageantry that we bring to the table. It just so happens, once a year, we get together and its that way on both sides of the field, which makes it really special.”
Brownwood opened 3-4A Division I play with a 45-38 triple overtime loss to Abilene Wylie, the reigning district champ and seemingly everyone’s favorite to repeat that feat on the heels of reaching the state final in 2016.
But Wylie has faced adversity – primarily injuries – and had to feel fortunate just to get out of that one with a win.
Conversely, Brownwood now must win against Stephenville if the Lions have any designs on claiming at least a share of the district title, as upsets by Snyder seem unlikely and upsets from Big Spring just about unfathomable.
Stephenville is coming off back-to-back losses, but that’s with a giant, bold-print asterisk that won’t be placed beside Friday’s result.
Do-it-all running back Krece Nowak played just the 11 minutes against Graham, tabulating 66 total yards rushing and receiving before suffering bruised ribs with a Graham defensive lineman was blocked by a Stephenville player at the end of a run, sending him careening into Nowak, who was down.
A late hit penalty was incorrectly called against Steer standout Patrick Langely, as the ref thought he simply delivered just that. Review of film the following day showed Langley should not have been penalized.
Regardless, the hit relegated Nowak to losing two yards on two carries in the second quarter and to the bench in the second half. Graham scored on a safety, on a safety kick return and two plays following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that wiped out a four-down goal-line stand by the Stephenville defense. The Steers won, 30-14, and remain unbeaten today.
Nowak left Graham with 1,062 offensive yards – 861 rushing and 201 receiving, and is still sitting on that number after sitting out the pre-district finale against Lubbock Monterey a week later.
A bye week followed, meaning Nowak has had three weeks of healing since the injury in Graham. His production was gargantuan up to that point as he averaged 249 offensive yards and three touchdowns per game.
“Having Krece back will help tremendously, no doubt about it,” said Winder. “He adds another dimension to our offense that you just can’t throw someone out there and replace, because as he’s shown all of us the first few games, he’s a special football player.”
If Gage Graham is able to again replace the production of Clay Krause – knee injury, giving Graham the opportunity to make nine catches for 145 yards against Monterey – then it could be argued justifiably that Stephenville has all its offensive weapons in place for the first time since beating Decatur 41-20 and for only the second time all season.
Quarterback Easton Jones caught one pass and punted in the initial two games, not returning to QB until a week three win over Everman. Jones suffered a ligament tear in his throwing elbow over he summer and underwent effective stem cell therapy.
The Jackets have mustered up 33.7 points and 356.5 yards per game through such adversity, and are taking on Brownwood defensive unit that has improved in recent weeks.
Abilene Wylie need three overtimes to score its 45 on the Lions, and Alvarado and Giddings combined for only 21 points the two weeks prior. The Lion defense was mess early on surrendering 59 points to Graham and 70 to Liberty Hill.
The Stephenville defense has not allowed moor than three touchdowns in a gem this season, as even high-scoring Graham needed a kick return to score four TDs.
The Yellow Jackets did not allow a third touchdown until the fourth quarter of blowout victories over Cleburne, Springtown or Decatur, even Everman, in another game that wasn’t close, scored twice in the forth after Stephenville used a 28-0 run to lead 34-7.
What’s concerning facing the Lions is their explosive offense, led by junior quarterback Tommy Bowden. Boasting a 14-to-1 TD-to-interception ratio, Bowden has passed for 1,290 yards and rushed for another 353, leaden the offense to 431.7 yards and 39.5 points per game.
“He scrambles and really makes plays happen all over the field, and then at the skill positions around him they are very fast and the primary running back is a load to bring down with another one coming in who is faster and quicker,” said Winder. “Offensively, they are loaded, no doubt about it.”
The Jacket defense was up to just limiting a similar offense against Graham, which had only to legitimate touchdown drives with out the aid of untimely penalties, and those were both in the opening quarter of that game.
Winder won’t rely on defensive coordinator Cody Moore and his gang of ruffians to stop Brownwood alone.
“I’m confident in our defense because we have played well on that side of the ball all year,” he said. “But we will also try to help them out offensively. We’ll try to get Krece and the offensive working tougher to get first downs, maintain possession of the ball and get it into the end zone.”
Asked the keys to victory for Stephenville, Winder cited what are almost certainly the keys for Brownwood, too:
“They’re a big-play offense so we have to limit the big play and keep them in front of us. That and, like always, we have to ankle well, especially when we are one-on-one out in space, we can’t miss tackles or their good skill kids will hurt us.
“Offensively, no turnovers, no gifts. Play he way we are cable of playing, but don’t get so caught up in it we make unnecessary mistakes,” he added. “And I’m sure like in any close game, special teams will be a big factor. We especially have to be sound in our coverage because they have some cats back there who can take it to the house.”
Brownwood leads the all-time series 50-24-1, and the Lions have won the last two. Before that, Stephenville won 17 of 22 dating back to 1990. Brownwood’s big marring in the series is the result of 23 connective wins over Stephenville from 1964 to 1987.
The Lions have Jackets have played annually since 1948 with the exception of 1967, 2006, 2007 and 2012.