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.