Monthly Archives: November 2012

Cedar Hill vs. Midlothian

 

Last night was the last night of the regular season in Texas. While both Midlothian and Cedar Hill knew they had wrapped up playoffs spots in the 64 team 5A division 2 bracket, the top seed from the 7-5A was up for grabs. (For all you out of Texas readers lost in this lingo, I’ll explain the playoff process in detail in a post later this week.) For now, just know seeding can be a huge factor in making it though the 6 game tournament and the winner last night would have an advantage when the playoffs begin next week. Also on the line was bragging rights, the communities of Cedar Hill and Midlothian are neighbors and have a long history on the field. Several of the Cedar Hill coaches make their home in Midlothian and in a game where rivals meet only once a year, this kind of thing means a lot.

In any close game there are a hundred little things one can point at making the difference between winning and losing. On the winning side, this means that everyone on the field and all the coaches that made decisions own part of the victory. On the losing end, every contributor was one play away from changing the outcome.  Friday night at Midlothian the margin between winning and losing was razor thin. Maybe it’s just 20/20 hindsight, but more often in not, these hard fought games seem to go to the team with the intangible belief that they will find a way to win. It’s not provable, but despite never holding a lead for the first 47 minutes of the game, the Longhorns seemed like a team who expected to win and in the end found a way.

Midlothian has often been the underdog in this series, but last night the Panthers started strong. Cedar Hill opened with a strong drive, reaching the Midlo 20 yard line before a interception and return to the opposite 40 gave the Panthers the early momentum. Four plays later, Midlothian scored to take an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The home team was threatening to add to their lead later in the 1st when the Panther quarterback lost the ball during a sack, Longhorn tackle Calan Johnson scooped up the loose ball and ran 90 yards for the first Cedar Hill score. A missed PAT left the score 7-6. Throughout the game, the Panther offense did a very good job grinding down the field, the Panther QB did a outstanding job running his read option, pulling the ball out and making some big runs. The Panthers scored again early in the 2nd quarter to take a 13-6 lead. In the final minutes the half, Cedar Hill put together a good drive, scoring to tie the game at 13 on a one yard QB dive with less than a minute to go in the half.

As they have all year, Midlothian opened up the second half with a explosive drive scoring in just 4 plays, to take a 20-13 lead early in the 3rd. the Longhorn defense settled down and pinned the Panthers deep, several poor punts into the wind gave the Horns great field position and Cedar Hill again tied the game on a 4 yard touchdown pass from Damian Hobbs to Jared Rayford.

On the following possession, Midlothian took control of the game, converting on 3rd down twice, 4th down once and running seven and a half minutes off the clock to score a touchdown and take a 6 point lead, but missing the extra point.

That missed turned out to be the difference, as the Horns moved the ball down the field, opening up big holes for running back Larry Hill and Damian Hobbs. With just 37 seconds remaining and a running clock,  Texas A&M commit Laquvionte Gonzalez, got around the right edge on a fly sweep and hit the pylon, tying the game, this PAT was good and, for the first time Cedar Hill had the lead, 27-26. Midlothian fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the ‘Horns celebrated.

The win gives Cedar Hill a 1st round matchup with Copperas Cove next Saturday in Waco and momentum going into the playoffs. I want to thank Coach McGuire, his staff and the rest of the Longhorns for a great final week of the regular season. This is a very fun group and I’m looking forward to following then to Waco next week.

31 motels and 11,200 miles down and this wraps up one part of my project. It’s sometimes been a grind, but it’s been an amazing experience as well. When I was coaching I often wondered what was going on in the other coaches’ offices. How do other teams prepare? How do other coaches deal with problems similar to the ones I had? What is the atmosphere like on gameday for other staffs? This past 11 weeks have given me insight most coaches never have the opportunity to get.

Whether I chose wisely or was just lucky, I’m not sure. But I’m convinced these programs are all great examples of high school football at its best. They each brought something different to the table, they don’t have a lot in common when it comes to demographic, coaching style and region of the state. But all of them provide programs that teach great football and life lessons that will stay with their boys the rest of their lives.

Though the regular season has ended, my project and this blog have not. Ten of my 11 teams are in the playoffs and I will follow as many as I can each week through the state championship games six weeks from now.  Regardless who eventually is playing in the end, I’ve committed to seeing this through and I will be in Cowboy Stadium in December before making the drive home. The brackets are still being put together, check back later in the week to see which playoff games I’ll be covering this weekend.

 

 

 

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Final Week:Cedar Hill Longhorns

When I showed up at Cedar Hill Saturday, I was a little apprehensive. The Longhorns had lost a tough game to Mansfield the previous night and I wondered if I would be walking into a tense office, on edge and trying to get things right for the playoffs. I needn’t have worried. Coach McGuire met me at the door of the field-house with a big smile and gushed about what a great game I’d missed the night before.

Changing misconceptions about high school football is a major point of this blog and the book I’m writing. The popular image of a coach is of the stern, distant Tom Landry type or the intimidating, Mike Ditka hard-ass. None of the eleven coaches I’ve spent time with remotely fit this caricature. These are men who care about kids and believe that they are building better men through their programs. Like all people, coaches have different personalities and after a few years in the business, coaches learn not to try to be someone they aren’t, but to coach in a way that fits who they are. The best coaches are the ones who have a personality that matches their program and philosophy.

Coach McGuire’s enthusiasm is not a put on, it’s who he is and it fits with the atmosphere he’s created at Cedar Hill. The Longhorns practice to music playing on the stadiums loudspeakers, the kids are often reminded to “have fun” and Coach McGuire can be seen joking with kids and yelling, “It’s a great day to be a Longhorn!”  An integral part of the philosophy at Cedar Hill is to create a loose and positive atmosphere where kids want to be. None of this means Longhorn practices aren’t productive or the coaches aren’t demanding. The kids and coaches know what the goals are and when to take care of business. In the past two days I have seen a lot of excellent coaching and learning. Some might wonder if a loose atmosphere gets in the way of discipline at Cedar Hill. I’ve seen nothing to make me think this is the case and a state championship in 2006 shows the success of this model.

One of the big advantages of the Texas system is the interaction it allows the coaches to have with their players. With 18 coaches and an athletic period allowing all the coaches to see the kids during the entire year, coaches have more freedom to work with the kids on a personal level. Coach McGuire and his staff can both coach effectively and have fun at the same time. In Nevada, as in most of the country, the coach/player ratio is much larger and the hours are much fewer, leaving little time to do much beyond what is absolutely required. The Cedar Hill coaches (and the coaches of all 11 programs I’ve spent time with) do a great job in a system that supports them in providing outstanding programs.

The Cedar Hill Longhorns are 5-4, but have played possibly the toughest schedule in the entire country. On top of playing in 7-5A, which Maxpreps listed as the tenth toughest league in the country, they also played Allen (ranked 5th by Dave Campbell Texas Football), Denton Guyer (3rd in 4A) and Washington High from Miami, currently ranked 3rd in Florida. They have clinched a berth in the 5A division two playoffs and may be a real player when the postseason starts in two weeks.

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Bird Bowl XX

 

When I set this trip up, people told me that to get a complete picture of the Texas high school football scene, I needed to make a trip to the Rio Grande Valley and see a game. Football is football and for the players and coaches, the atmosphere is similar wherever it’s played. There are differences in speed and physicality, some programs are better coached and make fewer mistakes, but whether in Harlingen, Dallas or Reno, Nevada, teenage boys approach the game the same way.  What makes Texas HS football unique is the support it has and its importance to the community. While many Texas towns are passionate about their teams, passion in the Valley is a different thing entirely. Pride is a word often heard around football programs, but it’s hard to define exactly what it means. In Harlingen, this pride while hard to put a finger on is very real. The best way I can describe it is that this game really MATTERED to the 10,000 in the stands as much as it did to the kids on the field.

Early on it looked as though the many who predicted Harlingen’s downfall might be right. Harlingen South came into the game with a lot of intensity, taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.  After a 70 yard run by sophomore running back Jaedon Taylor on the first play of the second quarter, the Hawks lead 16-7. A field goal late the second quarter gave the Cards a 17-16 lead at the half.

After playing very well before halftime, the Hawks seemed to lose steam in the second half. The Cardinal defense took control after the break. The Harlingen front dominated the Hawks, never again allowing Taylor to get going and pressuring the Hawk QB. On offense, Brandon Garza threw for two touchdowns on screen passes to receiver Mark Rosales and running back Deon Conde scored on a 56 yard run.  South scored late to make the final score 38-23.

I want to thank Coach Gomez, his players and coaches for letting me hang out with them this week. I set out on this journey in August to highlight programs that successfully teach football and in the process teach character that will serve these kids in all aspects of their lives. The Harlingen Cardinals are another good example of a program that does just that.

Coach Gomez and Linebacker Nathan Prado with the Bird Bowl Trophy

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Bird Bowl Preview

Harlingen Freshmen Game Crowd

I just got back from the sub-varsity games at Boggus Stadium and caught a little taste of the atmosphere that’ll be cranked up tomorrow night. About 1500 Cardinal supporters and maybe another 1000 Harlingen South fans were in the stands, blowing horns, ringing bells and getting more excited about a freshmen game than typical. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a freshmen game that so many cared so much about. I get a strong impression that when these two schools compete at ANYTHING, the importance of the outcome is magnified in Harlingen. The Cardinal freshmen won 29-7,,, at the half the JV for HHS was up 8-7.

There is a buzz around town that this is the year, the first in a long time, when Harlingen South has the edge in the rivalry. Harlingen has won 15 of the 19 contests in this series, but South is coming in with a 7-1 record and many are hoping to see a giant fall. A capacity crowd of 10,400 is expected tomorrow night, I’m pretty sure the game is sold out. I’m looking forward to a very exciting night.

I’ve had to delete several responses to my last post that crossed the line into badmouthing one of the teams. This blog was started to promote the game of high school football and hopefully give some insight into eleven quality programs in Texas. Whether you’re a Cardinal fan or not, I don’t think there’s any question Harlingen has a quality program and is a great example of what high school football can be. The Cardinals win because of great coaching, stability, tradition, work ethic and a fanatical fan base. Nobody has to like them, but not to respect them and what they have accomplished is foolish. There are plenty of message boards for those who want to argue and debate the game, but this isn’t one of them.

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