…Beyond being a huge rivalry game, the Little Southwest Conference title may be on the line. Cooper looks big; their offensive line must have 50 pounds per man on the Eagle defensive front. Speed is going be the key, as Fullen had said hours earlier. Both student sections are completely full of kids who stand the entire game. The black-clad Eagles, with gold helmets, and the Cougars, in white and blue with red trim, head to the locker room.
The public address announcer proudly brags about Abilene city football: “No town plays harder, tackles better, blocks better than these two teams. Not Odessa, or Midland or Lubbock or San Angelo, but Abilene, Texas.”
This is a small town, but this game is as big as can be. Senior DB Conlan Aguirre told me, “We don’t have a professional team, like a Dallas Cowboys or anything, so I guess high school football is like our professional…Every kid dreams of playing in front of thousands of people like NFL or college players, and we get to do that, in some sense we get to live the dream. Abilene High and Shotwell…is the closest you can get to living the dream”
He’s right, the atmosphere is electric.
For the next three hours, Abilene might end at the edge of Shotwell Stadium for the attention 15,000 here give the outside world. Nothing beyond the narrowly lit world matters. The pride of Abilene is on the line, and as silly a concept as it may seem from a distance, nothing feels more important under the lights of Shotwell…
…The 2012 Crosstown showdown is the type of game that will be remembered forever by those who were there.
Sometimes when the setting, stakes and action are right, a football game becomes larger than life, a beautiful struggle where passion, training and intensity come together perfectly. Every football fan probably has a list of games fitting this description. These games may or may not be well known, but have elements that create something magical…
…The game between Abilene High and Cooper on this night in 2012 joins my list, and probably the lists of most lucky enough to be in Shotwell.
The Cooper Cougars jump ahead, taking a 7-0 lead after an 11-play drive when quarterback Lorenzo Joe scores on a 17-yard run. The Eagle offense struggles, Abilene moves the ball well, but fumbles away two first quarter drives. The Cougars are stopped deep in their own territory on their third possession. At this point the Cougars make one of their few mistakes of the night, a bad snap on a punt attempt recovered by the Eagles in the end zone, tying the score at 7-7.
Early in the second quarter the Eagles take a 14-7 lead on a four yard pass from Evin Abbe to Keevan Lewis. Just before the half, however, Cooper scores on a 28-yard pass to Anthony Pierson to climb within a point, 14-13. The PAT is blocked and Abilene High leads by one going at the half.
Cooper is good; Lorenzo Joe is throwing well and always a threat on the ground. The Cooper defense is flying around as hard as the Eagles. Anything could happen in the second half, but this game just feels like it’s going down to the wire.
Both Abilene High and Cooper have big bands and long routines. The 28 minute halftime isn’t enough and players and coaches wait on the sideline as the Cooper band finishes. Warren strolls over to talk.
“This game is always like this,” he says, as though talking about something unconnected to him. I don’t know what’s going through his head, but I’m more nervous than he looks. His cool in the face of what must be tremendous pressure is impressive.
The Eagles score on the opening drive of the second half, getting into the end zone on a three yard run by Marcell Porter to extend their lead to 21-13. Any hope that the Eagles may pull away after the intermission is quickly dispelled as the Cougars put together a drive of their own, converting twice on third down, once when a Cougar receiver makes an acrobatic catch along the far sideline, dragging his toe inside the boundary to keep the drive alive. Cooper scores on a 17 yard slant over the middle to KaShawn Brown. 21-20 Eagles with 3:38 in the third.
Between the third and fourth quarters the game stops, helmets are removed and everyone stands to sing ‘God Bless America’. I’m told that this ritual began this year for all games at Shotwell.
Early in the final period, neither team get anything going. Abilene drives, but stalls at the 10 and the Eagles kick a 22 yard field goal to make it 24-20 with 5:13 left.
My gut tells me that the failure to score a touchdown may come back to haunt the Eagles. The Cougars won’t go away, and with just a four-point lead, Cooper has plenty of time to score a go-ahead touchdown. Sure enough, the Cougars once again rise to the challenge, driving 10 plays and taking their first lead since the first quarter on a two yard run by Xavier McCann to make the score 27-24 with just 2:18 left.
For the final two minutes, nobody sits. One big play or small mistake will determine the outcome; with so little time left whatever happens will be decisive and irreversible. The game will be decided by this battle between the Eagle offense and Cougar defense.
One trait of a successful team is confidence that they’ll find a way to win. Even when things look bleak, when all the evidence shows they should be beaten, deep down a team like Abilene High expects to find a way to come out on top. Success breeds success, luck favors those with faith. Quality teams have a knack for winning games they should probably lose.
Cooper has outplayed the Eagles tonight, and the momentum is on the far sideline, but Abilene High’s been here before. Bobby Johnson told me that back in the bad old days, Abilene High teams were often beaten before they took the field. Warren and this team are never beaten as long as there’s a second on the clock.
Starting on their own 28 yard line, the Eagles move the ball to the Cooper 20, where they use their last timeout facing a third and 2 with 33 seconds remaining. A pass to the sidelines moves the chains and gives the Eagles the ball on the Cougar 10. A three yard run by Marcell Porter puts the ball on the seven but the clock is running and Abbe spikes the ball to the ground stopping the clock with 11 seconds remaining.
Everyone playing has spent years working for this moment, everything hinges on this one play. Just one more stop and Cooper will have a clear path to a district championship. The noise from the packed stands is loud as 15,000 Abilenians roar and stomp their feet, aware of the importance of this snap.
Ebbe rolls right, falling backward, a Cooper linebacker knocks him to the ground just as he releases the ball…