Monthly Archives: December 2012

Championship Weekend Observations

 48,379 (?) at Allen vs. Lamar game

48,379 (?) at Allen vs. Lamar game

It’s been eight days since the last of the championship games were played and I have some thoughts on the weekend.

I spoke to a few small school coaches during the season that had some resentment about the new format, preferring the old system which allowed the teams to arrange their own venue as with all other rounds of the playoffs. I understand their issue. If two teams from West Texas or East Texas happen to match up in state, it won’t make a lot of sense to play the game in Arlington, or Houston if they get the games there is future years. With that said, I don’t see the system reverting back. With over 200,000 fans attending during the three day event, Fox Sports Southwest being able to televise every game live, all from the same 1st rate venue in a state that has so many fans of high school football, not just fans of a particular team I’m guessing this is here to stay.

As one of those fans, I caught at least part of eight of the nine games. It is an amazing event, a showcase of the very best high school football in the country. I would encourage any fan of the sport, at some point in their lifetime to make the trip to see it, like going to the Grand Canyon, or Marti Gras, a trip to the Texas football championships is something every sports fan ought to experience once,,, I’d call it a ‘bucket list’  item but I’m sick of that term.

The attendance figures make no sense. With three tripleheaders, I would like somebody to explain how the UIL could possibly come up with an accurate total for the 4 o’clock or 8 o’clock games. Many fans who showed up for the noon game, stayed to watch the 4 o’clock game,,, many 4 o’clock game patrons stuck around for the 8 o’clock game. Nobody counted the people who left, so the announced attendances HAD to be estimates. None of this really matters except it bothered me when the attendance for the Allen-Lamar game was announced as 48,379. 48,379 is not an estimate, it implies the exact number is known. There was a lot of buzz around the stadium that the 50,000 mark would be broken and a new record for the history of Texas high school football would be set. There was audible disappointment when this number was given. If anyone can tell me any logical way the exact number could have been determined, I’d love to hear it.

Really isn’t important, whatever the crowd was, it was impressive and watching those six outstanding teams battle on the last day of the season was a great finale for my 5 months in Texas.

Happy New Year everybody!

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Cedar Hill vs. Katy: 5A-DII State Championship

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I don’t know if it’s because this is the last game I’ll be writing about, because I had a 1600 mile drive to think about it or because I had seen so many of Cedar Hill’s games, but the 5A-DII game is a hard one to write about.  1st off, I don’t think either team could say they played their best football. Understandable considering what was on the line and the crowd of over 42,000 at Cowboy Stadium. Anyone would have had an excuse for coming out a little tight.

That Cedar Hill could have been a little flat and still have led Katy in the 4th quarter,  the first time anyone has been up on the Tigers all year, says something about the Longhorns. Not to take anything away from Katy, I’d been hearing about them all year and they didn’t disappoint. Katy running back Adam Taylor is an amazing football player, probably the best I’ve seen all year. The Oklahoma commit rushed for all 5 Katy touchdowns and 275 yards. The defensive front for Katy was outstanding as well. With all due respect to Allen, I think Katy proved they are the best team in the state.

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Cedar Hill played well, but not great; the same can be said of Katy. The game turned out to be a battle between Tiger power and Longhorn speed and Saturday afternoon, power won. Speed could have won with great execution, but the Longhorns squandered too many chances, something you can’t do against a team as good as Katy.

The squandered chances began early, a touchdown pass dropped in the endzone, cost Cedar Hill 4 points, a field goal gave the ‘Horns a 3-0 lead.  Katy quickly responded with a score and led 7-3.

Cedar Hill gambled with 5 minutes to go in the half, trying for a first down on 4th and 2 from their own 30. A broken play gave the ball to Katy on the 29.  The Tigers took advantage of the Longhorn mistake on a Taylor run a few plays later, giving the Tigers a 14-3 lead.

After narrowing the deficit to 14-10 late in the second quarter on a touchdown catch by Brandon Harris, the Longhorns had a great opportunity to take the lead going into the half when Katy failed to cover the kickoff. Despite great field position the Longhorns came away with nothing.

Katy extended their lead to 21-10 on a third TD run with 5:28 in the third, but Cedar Hill showing great poise, played their best football of the night during the next few minutes. The Longhorns narrowed the score with a touchdown run by quarterback Damion Hobbs on 4th and 7 from the 24. A Katy three and out gave the ball back to the Longhorns. A screen to Laquvionte Gonzalez set up a second touchdown catch by Harris and suddenly the Longhorns had a 28-24 lead after a successful 2 point conversion.

A final 4th down was the turning point of the game. Cedar Hill had the momentum, when the Tigers were faced with a 4th and 2 from their 45 yard line and 6:46 to go. If the Longhorns make the stop, the game would be in their control. But the Tigers pitched the ball to Taylor who got the 1st and much more, running 55 yards to retake the lead for the Tigers. After a Longhorn interception, the Tigers put the game  away on a 5th touchdown run by Taylor, this time from 45 yards out.

The game was marked by gutsy play by both teams. Dealing with attrition is usually a factor in surviving 16 games and playing for a title. Katy’s quarterback played with a broken tibia suffered in the semifinal against Steele and the Tigers had two offensive linemen out with ACL injuries from that game as well. The Longhorns made their entire run after starting running back Jared Rayford was hurt in week two during the Allen game. Larry Hill played that position through the quarterfinal with Midway, hurting his knee on the last play of that game. The third running back Bobby Jackson was huge against Westlake, but couldn’t find a many holes against the Tiger front.

The game came down to two things.

1)      Katy’s defensive front taking away the inside run and not giving the ‘Horn QB time to set up. Cedar Hill usually has had a very balanced attack; they made some big plays but lack of a running game kept the Longhorns from being able to sustain drives as they had done throughout the playoffs.

2)       Katy’s running game eventually wore Cedar Hill’s defense down. The ‘Horns did a great job stalling drives and forcing punts, but Taylor couldn’t be stopped forever, and his two huge TD runs late in the game were too much to overcome.

Katy proved that they were the better team, but Cedar Hill earned respect as well. Other Metroplex teams; Allen, De Soto, Coppell, Southlake Carroll and Mesquite all put up great records. Cedar Hill’s 1-3 start (with losses to Allen, De Soto and a Florida state champion) made many forget about the Longhorns. Despite the loss, Cedar Hill showed themselves to be an elite program.

While this is the last game, I’ll be writing about, it is not the end of the blog. I’m home now and will get down to writing the book full time. Later this week I’ll blog about my impressions from championship weekend at Cowboy Stadium and about my overall thoughts of the 5 months I spent in Texas.

I want to thank Cedar Hill for allowing me access to their entire playoff run. Including the last week of the regular season, I had the privilege to be on their sideline for seven straight weeks. It was a great run and despite the finish, I think its something Longhorn players and coaches will be proud of in the years to come.

I hope everyone in Texas had a Merry Christmas. I enjoyed my time there but it’s great to be home.

My front yard this morning, something you don't see in Texas

My front yard this morning, something you don’t see in Texas

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Stamford vs Mart: 1A-DI State Championship

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Winning state championships is not supposed to be easy. To survive each step up the latter and be the last of 48 playoff and 84 1A-DI squads requires making it though some adversity, weathering a few storms and shifting momentum your way. Yesterday, the Stamford Bulldogs did all that in claiming their 1st state championship since 1959.

After making some uncharacteristic mistakes in the first half, the Bulldogs trailed Mart 21-13. During the intermission Stamford’s coaches were very matter of fact about what needed to be done. They let the kids know they were fine, if they eliminated the mistakes of the first half and played their ‘A’ game. During the 2nd half they would wear the Panthers down. This is, in fact what happened, but maybe in a more thrilling fashion than the Stamford squad envisioned.

With only 28 players dressed out the Panthers from Mart were persistent and refused to go away and quit. The Bulldogs tied the score at 21 on a 43 yard run by quarterback Hagen Hutchinson with just over 6 minutes to go in the 3rd. Mart responded with a drive of their own, scoring on a 9 yard run with 11 minutes to go in the game and tying the game at 28. The next seven minutes consisted of stalled drives and punts. Mart looked exhausted and seemed to be hanging on by a thread, but every time it looked like Stamford was set to take over, the Panthers made a play showing they were still there . Stamford’s defense made several key stops during this stretch which proved huge in a game that had become a battle for field position. The battle paid off when a Mart punt gave the ball to Stamford on Marts 49 yard line with 3:31 to go.

Several passes and QB runs set up a 3rd and 5 from the 9 with less than a minute to go. Stamford ran a QB sweep to the right and Hutchinson pressed through his own blockers, falling into the endzone with the go ahead score with 32 seconds to go.

The Panthers were not quite done, Mart moved the ball to the Stamford 35 on two passes, setting up one last chance with 8 seconds remaining. A pass over the middle was intercepted by Hutchinson playing safety who slid to the ground and the game was over.

The Stamford sidelines and stands erupted. Though nobody’s underdog, being a favorite put a target on this teams back all season. The Bulldogs never faltered or lost their cool and found a way to beat a very worthy Mart squad. After losing last year’s championship to Mason, the Bulldogs felt they had unfinished business and nothing is better than seeing all the thousands of hours of hard work get rewarded.  The Panthers played a great game, but lost to the better team.

Quarterback/safety Hagen Hutchinson was named both offensive and defensive player of the game. On offense, Hutchinson was directly involved with 4 touchdowns, running for two and passing for two more. He was 22-30 in the air, passing for 248 yards and rushing for 132 more. Defensively, Hutchinson made 16 tackles and ended the game with an interception. This ended an amazing week for Hutchinson who was named AP 1A Player of the Year on Monday. Football is such a team sport that I hate to single out one player, but Hagen’s performance has been remarkable. He has the rare combination of ability and the knack of knowing how to use it. Whether using his speed to get to the edge, using his strength to press forward, making a move or throwing the ball, Hutchinson has tremendous football IQ. He always seems to make the right decision.  Maybe it has to do with being the son of Coach Hutchinson, but whatever it is, he’s been a lot of fun to watch.

Finally, once again, I want to thank the people of Stamford Texas and the Stamford High School football program for allowing me access and welcoming me into your town. I thank you for the tremendous response to my last blog about this wonderful community. Before this trip I, like most suburbanites, had never spent any significant time in a small town. I hope my book, as well as documenting the story of the 2012 Stamford Bulldogs will change some perceptions about small town life. The small towns I covered;  Stamford, Carthage, Throckmorton and Idalou are all excellent places full of good people; towns where people like to live. That some of these places are shrinking is more about lack of opportunities than desire to move to bigger cities.  I know it can’t be as meaningful to me as those who’ve waited their whole lives to see a Stamford championship, but I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to be around for the culmination of this historic season.

Stamford Championship 047

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The Home Stretch

I just checked into a motel down the street from Cowboy Stadium, the last of 44 I’ve stayed in over my five months in Texas.  When I originally called this a ‘road trip’ it seemed like the proper way to describe it. Looking back at it now, calling this a roadtrip feels like calling Magellan’s round the world voyage a sailboat ride.  During the trip I’ve driven about 18,000 miles, eaten too much fast food and seen more of the state than most locals. I’ve watched the days shorten and the leaves fall off the trees. Thinking back on all I’ve seen since I came here in July, it’s hard to believe I’ll be sleeping in my own bed again in a few days.

Though I’m excited to get home, I’ll miss hanging with the coaches and the places I’ve been in Texas. I came here to see the unique qualities of high school football is in this state. I hoped to show how well run and supported it is and how it’s also a positive influence on the kids who play it and the communities who love it. I hope those sentiments have come across in this blog. I’ve gathered enough material to make my points in a more complete way in my upcoming book. I don’t know exactly how long it will take to write, having never done this before. I can say, however, I have great material, interesting angles and compelling stories about every stop on my trip. All eleven towns and schools offered a different piece of the picture. If I did anything right, I’m very proud of the programs I chose for this project. Now, I just have to figure out how to put it together into a book worthy of the programs that so generously allowed me inside. I’ll start working on it as soon as I get home and will keep this blog informed of my progress.

I have one more day before I find out how my Stamford chapter will end and two more before I know the end for Cedar Hill. I’ll, of course, write recounts of both championship games in the upcoming days. Whatever happens, it should be exciting.

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Throckmorton vs. Abbott: 6-man Division I Championship

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I had two big issues when covering the Throckmorton Greyhounds for this blog. First, from a football standpoint the six-man game, while very interesting, is kind of alien to me. The rhythm, strategy and mentality are completely different than the 11 man game. Even though I did spend a week with them, I never got used to the sight of so few players on the field. That said, nobody who knows how to read a scoreboard or understands what a touchdown is could watch the Throckmorton Greyhounds and not know they are far and away the best team in the 6-man DI division. They proved that Saturday night, handily defeating the Abbott Panthers 72-30 for their second straight 6-man championship. Leading 40-24 at the half the Greyhounds quickly put this game away after a touchdown, an onside kick, another touchdown, a fumble and a 3rd touchdown, put T’rock up 64-24 with 4 minutes to go in the 3rd. The only drama left was whether Abbott could play a full quarters holding off the 45 point lead that would have ended the game. A touchdown and a slowdown offense in the 4th allowed the Panthers to save face and finish the game falling to the Greyhounds by a final score of 72-30.

The second problem that I had was that while I could see multiple playoff games in the metroplex or in Houston, all the six-man playoff games were played in West Texas, putting me in a position where I would have to forgo seeing my other teams or just seeing the Greyhounds. This is why I missed the 1st half last night. I left Waco and the Cedar Hill game and drove as fast as I could to get to Abilene and catch as much of the T’rock game as I could. I’m happy I made it in time to see the ‘Hounds get their championship medals and trophy. Winning a championship takes a tremendous amount of work no matter how much talent your team has and it was nice to see these people I spent time with celebrate a successful end of the season. Congratulations to the Greyhounds, it was a pleasure seeing you again, if only for a few minutes.  Like all the teams I’ve covered, I have a lot of respect for the people involved with Throckmorton High School and the Throckmorton football program. They are where they are because they do things right.

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Cedar Hill vs. Austin Westlake: State Semifinal

 

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The Cedar Hill Longhorns had a 14-7 lead over the Westlake Chaparrals at the half yesterday at the 5A DII semifinal in Waco. Some leads feel safer than other and going into the half, I feared the missed opportunities of the first half could be decisive.

Unlike last week against Midway, the Longhorns did not play perfect football against Westlake. Cedar Hill had completely dominated the first 24 minutes of play. The Longhorn defense was outstanding; Westlake had just three first downs at the intermission. However, a bounce off the leg on a ‘Horn DB during a quick punt gave the Chaps the ball on the 1 yard line leading to their only 1st half score. The Longhorns blew several scoring chances during the 1st half. A great pass into the endzone went through the hands of Laquivonte Gonzalez when he lost it in the sun and sophomore kicker Brooks Ralph missed two field goals that would have extended the Longhorn lead.

Any team playing five rounds into the playoffs is dangerous and the fact that the Chaps had managed to keep this game as close as they had was scary. It’s hard to leave so many points on the field and win against great teams.

The second half was a seesaw battle, Cedar Hill faltered again, fumbling the play after getting a defensive stop and setting up a tying score by the Chaps. The ‘Horns responded with a 77 yard run by Bobby Jackson, sprung the final 20 yards by an outstanding block by receiver Quincy Adeboyejo to retake the lead 21-14. When Gonzalez scored from 8 yards out to give the Longhorns a 28-14 lead, it looked like the game might be in hand.

Westlake responded with a touchdown to close the score to 28-21 with 6:10 remaining. Cedar Hill’s offense still couldn’t get going and were forced to punt again. The Chaps converted on a great pass and catch on 3rd and 15 to the 50. On the next play, the Longhorns were caught in a blitz and nobody covered running back Sean Rollins in the flat. The pass went to the 6 yard line and the Chaps punched it in a few plays later tying the score at 28 with 2:30 to go.

The momentum was completely on Westlake’s side, the Chap crowd was on their feet when the ‘Horns took the ball for their final drive from the 28. After a first down, Cedar Hill faced a 3rd and 12 from their own 38, needing a first down or facing likely overtime.  Cedar Hill quarterback Damion Hobbs connected for 21 yards on an amazing catch by Adeboyejo to keep the drive alive, another 10 yard pass and a five yard scramble by Hobbs put the ball on the Westlake 25 with 8 seconds remaining when Cedar Hill called their final timeout. The Longhorns decided to put the game on the foot of Brooks Ralph despite his two earlier misses. This time, the sophomore connected from 42, sending the Longhorns to the championship with a 31-28 victory.

Cedar Hill did not play their best football, but they did have some great clutch performances. Bobby Jackson rushed for 172 yards on 15 carries, filling in for power back Larry Hill who injured his knee against Midway. Adeboyejo made some amazing catches when most needed. Despite a few big play breakdowns, the defense made some big stops and completely dominated the first half. The poise shown by sophomore Brooks Ralph, getting a chance to redeem his earlier misses; calmly winning the game in the face of all that pressure was very impressive.

The Longhorns will play their first championship game since winning it all in 2006. They meet the undefeated Katy Tigers Saturday at Cowboy Stadium. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to hitch my wagon to the Longhorns just as they started their incredible run six weeks ago. I couldn’t have scripted it better than having one of my original 11, playing on the final day I’ll be working on this project.  It’s been a great ride and I’m looking forward to a great finish.

Ralph #41 moments before the kick

Ralph #41 moments before the kick

'Horns Celebrate

‘Horns Celebrate

 

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Stamford vs. Italy: State Semifinal

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Before I came to Texas I had heard how small town Texas football is different than the game played in bigger cities. It is. With schools as small as Stamford, there aren’t athletes and non-athletes, different cliques for student to focus on whatever they excel at. This isn’t a place for specialization. The students at Stamford take part in everything offered by the school, everyone has a role. In a sport as labor intensive as football, success is a community effort. The boys in small towns like Stamford don’t just play for a school, but the town itself, and the town is involved in a way you don’t see in bigger schools.  Focusing on just football, misses a lot of what makes the small town game unique. In Stamford and other small towns, a football game is more than just a game but the towns’ window to show the rest of Texas all that’s best about their city.

The band, the cheerleaders, the parents shaking their noisemakers, the townspeople manning the inflatable Bulldog tunnel, the middle school kids that make up “The Blue Crew” sprinting the field with their flags after each Stamford score and, of course, the football team are all a part of the overall package. Football is just part of the picture.  This town rightly takes pride not just in the play of the Bulldogs, but in the way the town puts its best foot forward when they hit the field. A man from Stamford proudly told me of buying enough flags for “The Blue Crew” to spell out STAMFORD while other 1A schools would go with SHS. Another dad spoke excitedly of his son getting the opportunity to play in the state championship two years in a row while he himself never got that chance when he played for the Bulldogs 30 years ago. It’s dads, moms and people with no connection to the team other than living in Stamford and being proud of it.

The city of Stamford, Stamford High School and the Bulldog football team are all connected and more of them were in Mineral Wells Friday night, than were back home in Stamford when the Bulldogs lined up Friday night.

The Bulldogs are playing their best football at the right time. After rolling through their first three playoff opponents, they were set to meet the surprising Italy Gladiators for a berth in the state championship. The Bulldogs completely controlled the game on both sides of the ball.

With so few players, 1A football success is often about indentifying and shutting down the opponents’ main threat. Stamford’s defensive gameplan centered on containing Gladiator running back Ryheem Walker and this was effective, holding him to 98 yards.  Italy only threatened to get into the endzone once, before finally getting on the board against the Bulldog second string late in the 4th quarter. On offense, quarterback Hagen Hutchinson ran for three touchdowns and passed for two more before being pulled early in the 3rd quarter. The dangerous thing about Hutchinson is his ability to move the ball three ways; passing, scrambling after setting up to pass and on designed runs. While not passing well early, he was effective on the ground until he found his passing groove.

With the 41-8 victory the Bulldogs advance  for the second straight year to the 1A-DI championship this Thursday in Cowboy Stadium, against the Mart Panthers. There’s always celebration after a semifinal win but I got the feeling this team isn’t satisfied with simply playing in State. They’ve been there before, and know what to expect. In last year’s game, an injury to Hutchinson kept them from playing their best football in a 62-40 loss to Mason. The excitement has to do with going into this game healthy, playing well and having  a shot at the first Bulldog championship since 1959.

I’ll be heading to Stamford for the next few days to watch this team and town prepare to take their show to the biggest stage in Texas, Cowboy Stadium in Arlington.

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Semifinal Week

I’m in the Austin area tying up some loose ends, but will be headed back north to the Metroplex on Thursday in time for the Semifinals. Less than two weeks left in the season and before I go home. I’m excited to get home but its been a great experience and every weekend just gets more intense, the remaining teams are just amazing.

Of the eleven teams I spent time with this season, three are still playing, Throckmorton, Stamford and Cedar Hill. Not bad considering how many good teams there are in this state and how hard it is to advance through each round. I will be in Mineral Wells on Friday night for the Stamford 1A-DI semifinal against the Italy Gladiators. Saturday, I will be heading down to Waco for the 5A-DII semi between Cedar Hill and Austin Westlake. Immediately after the game, I’ll be driving to Abilene for the 6-Man DI Championship between Throckmorton and Abbott. I will not be on time but its the best I can do. I know I’ll be missing the 3A-DI game and a ton of other great games, the toughest thing about the playoffs here is having to choose which game to go see and as long as I have teams I’ve been with I’ll stick with them.

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Cedar Hill vs. Waco Midway Quarterfinal

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I don’t know if I have ever seen an offense click as much as Cedar Hill’s the past two weeks. After a dominating game against Arlington in round three, it seemed that the ceiling should have been reached. But this week against Waco Midway, the Longhorn offense took things to a new level. The Cedar Hill offense was almost flawless in their execution.  It’s a given that Cedar Hill has a lot of speed and will make big, athletic plays. What’s missed in watching the highlights is the consistency of this unit. With 56 offensive plays, Cedar Hill had zero penalties, were 4 for 4 on 4th down conversions, quarterback Damion Hobbs was 18-20 and 199 yards. On the ground Hobbs, Larry Hill and Laquvionte Gonzalez combined for 239 yards on 39 carries. They were sharp, clean and versatile, hurting the Panthers with long passes, screens, pounding the ball inside and getting to the edge.

For all that, the big play of the game was made by the ‘Horn defense. Leading 21-14 in the second, the Panthers had a first and goal from the 2. A bad snap set up a 3rd down from 20. Attempting to pass, the Panther quarterback was hit from behind, losing the ball. Bulldog linebacker, Jonathan Buffin  scooped up the loose ball and ran 80 yards for his second defensive score in two weeks, giving the ‘Horns a 28-14 lead.

The Panthers battled back, closing the score to 28-21 with 1:38 in the half, setting up the 2nd big Longhorn drive. A good return and an amazing catch by Quincy Adeboyejo put the ball on the Panther 2. With the clock running, the Hill offense kept their composure and scored on a 2 yard run with 4 seconds in the half.

The next big point came on the Longhorns first possession of the second half. Cedar Hill converted three times on 4th down on a 14 play drive that ended with a 28 yard touchdown pass to Adeboyejo.

Leading by eight, the ‘Horns hammered the final nail in the Panthers coffin in the 4th quarter. Taking the ball on  their own 14, the Longhorns faced a 3rd and 1 when Larry Hill broke the line and went 49 yards for the final score with 1:37 remaining, final score: 49-34 Cedar Hill.

I have to give credit to Midway. They are a great team and would never go away, but made a few mistakes and this was fatal against a team playing such a clean game.  At this level and by this round of playoffs, the remaining teams are so good that the margin of error is tiny. Midway played well, but several letdowns cost them in a game that Cedar Hill played almost perfectly.

The win sends Cedar Hill to Waco for a semifinal showdown against Austin Westlake. This is the 1st time the ‘Horns have gone beyond the quarterfinals since winning state in 2006. It’s been exciting to watch this team for the past 5 weeks and I look forward to Saturday in Waco. As I said last week, if this team keeps playing this well, they are very hard to stop.

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Carthage vs. El Campo State Semifinal

Cedar Hill and Carthage 12-9 013

The Carthage Bulldogs looked like they were in complete control Friday night in Beaumont. But the Bulldogs couldn’t come up with the one play they needed to finish off the undefeated El Campo Ricebirds. Something the Texas high school playoffs have taught me is, with teams this good, the ability to finish is often the difference between advancing and going home. Those still playing are so disciplined and dangerous, situations that would make an ordinary team fold up and start thinking about the offseason are often overcome; if the team on top can’t put a boot on the neck and finish the job.

After taking a 25-14 early in the 4th, the Carthage Bulldogs had many chances to put that boot on the neck but kept letting the Ricebirds up. The next two El Campo possessions ended in turnovers. The Bulldogs failed to capitalize on either one.  Still, when El Campo took possession with 7:10 left, deep in their own territory and down by 11, the game felt under control. El Campo, had thrown just 80 passes the entire season, down by two scores with time running out, it seemed unlikely the Ricebirds could put together two scores quickly enough. Though ineffective throwing the ball, El Campo did a great job moving the ball on the ground, scoring a touchdown with 3:37 left. A successful 2 point conversion made the score 25-22 Carthage.

It was still Carthage’s game to lose, if they could just pick up a few first downs the game would be over. On second and long, the Bulldogs attempted a trick play and fumbled on their own 9 yard line. Four plays later, on 4th and 2 from the 2, the Ricebirds took their first lead of the night, 29-25 with 1:50 remaining.

The Bulldogs quickly took their last possession to the El Campo 30 yard line, but two incomplete passes set up a 4th and 2.  A quarterback draw took the ball to the marker; the chains were brought out, short by an inch and suddenly, the game and the Bulldog season is over.

At its best football, for a brief moment, feels like the most important thing in the world to the men who coach it and the kids who play it. For the past five months thousands of hours have been dedicated and the people involved have spent more time with each other than their families. In the playoffs, everything is elevated, the highs of winning and moving on are amazing, but the lows are devastating. Suddenly, everything is taken away and all that work feels like it’s been for nothing. Players realize they had just played their last game, many their last ever. After a playoff loss is the only time you’ll see teenage boys openly cry.

In the end, football is really about the life lessons it teaches the students who play it. How to deal with the crushing end of a season is the final lesson and Coach Surratt and the Carthage staff set a great example of how to lose with dignity. Coach Surratt gathered his team for the final time and told them he would take the blame for the loss because that’s what adults do instead of pointing fingers. He admonished the few who couldn’t control their emotions enough to represent Carthage in defeat. He let his team know he was proud of them and thanked them for their effort. It will be a long offseason for the Bulldog coaches and returning players, this was the type of loss that haunts you.

Carthage will return ten of eleven offensive starters in 2013. This is an excellent program and does things the right way, they will be back. I enjoyed my time in Carthage and with the Bulldog staff and players. I’m disappointment that the loss means I won’t be seeing them again for my project and it’s sad that my last time with them was watching them handle a tough loss. But, unfortunately, that’s how it usually ends in the playoffs.

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