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.