Sometimes everything comes together to produce a game that demonstrates the best of what a sporting event can be. Last night was one of those moments at Shotwell Stadium. Whether in the stands, on the sidelines or on the field, few who were there will ever forget this game. Most people outside of Abilene won’t know or care what happened, but for 15,0000 Cougar and Eagle supporters, coaches and players, the world got very small, and for those three hours, nothing else mattered.
This is the type of game these players and many in attendance will be talking about the rest of their lives, recounting the last two minutes and even those on the Cooper side will, in future years, take a lot of pride thinking back on the effort they gave and be glad to have taken part in this great battle.
From early on you could sense that this wasn’t going to be a repeat up last year’s 62-6 blowout. Cooper came out strong and grabbed the early momentum going up 7-0 on a 12 yard run on their first drive. Cooper made one of very few mistakes a few minutes later, when a bad snap over the head of the Cougar punter was recovered by Gabriel Jordan in the end zone to knot the score at 7.
From there it was a seesaw battle, both teams taking the momentum and both clawing their way back in when things seemed to be going against them. After Abilene took a 24-27 lead in the 4th quarter, Cooper responded with a 10 play drive that included several 3rd down conversions to make the score 27-24 Cooper with 2:17 to go.
The Eagles took over from their own 28, drove the ball to the 7 yard line with 11 seconds remaining and no timeouts. Rolling to his right, with his primary receivers covered, quarterback Evin Ebbe forced a ball that seemed to carom off both hands of a Cooper DB before finding running back Marcell Porter in the front of the end zone and three second on the clock. Final Score 31-27 Abilene High.
Games like this make football the powerful, beautiful thing it is at its best; two well matched teams with passionate fan bases, fighting with everything they have for their teammates and schools while the entire community seems to hang on every play. You couldn’t be at this game without getting drawn into the emotion of it. The game walked the line between intensity and control that great games do. The action was desperate without tuning into ugliness.
Cooper kids, clearly crushed by a game that slipped away, showed all the class you’d hope to see after such a great battle, fighting through their disappointment to congratulate the Eagles and recognize Abilene’s alma mater. The Eagles showed the character of a disciplined, well-coached program that is used to winning, by putting together a methodical drive in the face of all that emotion, intensity and pressure. It’s often said in games like this that you hate to see either team lose, and in this case, it’s true. Both teams played a great game and both fought heroically when it would have been easy to give up. Abilene should be proud to have two big school programs of this caliber; Abilene ISD has managed to create a system where both schools have thrived while so many other places build up one program by sacrificing the other. Without that commitment from the community to both these schools, this night would have looked very different.
I had a great time with the Abilene High Eagles this week. This program represents exactly what a large school program should, winning by doing things the right way. These are great kids and great coaches who know what they’re doing and do them for the right reasons. It just doesn’t get any better than seeing a squad like this match up against another quality group. Nights like last night at Shotwell are what this sport is all about.