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12/23/1998  Coverage comes full circle  Football

Wednesday, December 23, 1998

Coverage comes full circle

By Bill Hart

Sports writers who cover high school football are like fans, they want to see at least one of their teams play for the state championship. The only difference is we don't care which ones make it.

I have been blessed to see more than most writers because of my age and because the Big Country usually plays as good a brand of football.

Strangely, my career has come full circle.

The first year that I worked for the Abilene Reporter-News (1973), I went with another writer to the Class B state championship game in Weatherford between Rule and Big Sandy and wrote a sidebar.

Bobby Mitchell scored all four touchdowns as Big Sandy won, 24-0, giving him 45 touchdowns for the year. His late-game replacement was a freshman, David Overstreet, who later played for the University of Oklahoma.

The Rule quarterback was Art Briles. Last Saturday when I covered my last state championship game before retirement, Briles coached Stephenville to its third state crown.

It wasn't Briles' fault that Rule lost in 1973; Big Sandy was an outstanding team. But I guess it proves that Briles is a better coach than he was a player, although he was good and got a scholarhip to the University of Houston.

De Leon won the first state title after I got here. That came in 1975 when the Bearcats dominated Schulenburg, although the final in the Class A title game was only 26-15. Turnovers kept it from being a blowout. The highlight happened while going to the game. We caught up with a bevy of De Leon fans, led by an ambulance, and cars we met along the way stopped because the drivers thought it was a funeral procession.

But the thing that was impressive about this team came the week before in the semifinals when De Leon beat Seagraves, 37-7, converting 11 fourth downs into either first downs or touchdowns, and having the football for 37 of the 48 minutes.

The next year, Gorman and De Leon made it to the finals. Gorman beat Ben Bolt, 18-6, in a driving rainstorm for the Class B title in Taylor. Then the next week, De Leon lost to Barbers Hill, 17-8. Some of the Gorman players were at the Class A contest, jokingly to pick up the trophy in case De Leon won because the Panthers had beaten the Bearcats during the regular season.

In 1977, Brownwood put on a strong finish. After trailing 40-8 midway through the fourth quarter, the Lions lost to Dickinson, 40-28, in the Class 3A title game. The Lions made Donnie Little look like a world-class quarterback as he rushed for a then-record 255 yards.

The Lions came back the next year to beat Gainesville, 21-12, for the state title at Texas Stadium. What was impressive about that team was that no one in the starting backfield weighed more than 145 pounds. But a big line kept opening big holes for them. Brownwood scored 21 points in the first half, then held on.

The next state championship came in 1981 when Brownood won its seventh title and coach Gordon Wood his ninth by beating Willowridge, 14-9. The winning score came after the Lions recovered a fumble deep in enemy territory. Yet, it took a pass interception by quarterback-turned-defensive back Tyler Tabor to insure the win. The Lions kept a guy named Thurman Thomas out of the end zone that night.

I could almost write a book about the 1982 Class 2A Eastland championship team. The Mavericks won four playoff games in the final minutes, then breezed past East Bernard in the Class 2A state championship game, 28-6. At the same time, Roscoe was losing the Class A title to Union Hill, 13-0. A guy can't be two places at the same time.

The next year produced one of the most exciting championship games. Knox City trailed Bremond, 20-0, at the half in the Class A title game on a snow-covered field at Weatherford. But Waynie Hutchinson ran 68 yards for one score and passed for another, and Otis Lockhart ran for two more in a great come-from-behind 27-20 victory. The picture that showed coach Tommy Sloan leading the bench players onto the field at the end of the game was one of the best our paper has run.

Munday won the Class A title the next year on the same field, except it was dry. The Moguls scored twice in the first half and that was enough to beat Union Hill, 13-0. The big story of that game was a fan went to his daughter's wedding and then flew to Weatherford to root for the Moguls.

Sweetwater and Goldthwaite won titles in 1985, in games played on separate days. Goldthwaite took care of Runge 24-7, in the Class A game, scoring 24 unanswered points. I sat in the stands that night since I was doing a sidebar, and it got old hearing fans yelling 'tick, tick, tick" urging the clock to keep running on every play in the fourth quarter.

Class 4A Sweetwater beat Tomball the next day, 17-7, and Mike Welch played the best quarter of any athlete that I have ever seen. He fumbled a punt deep in Mustang territory in the fourth quarter with Sweetwater ahead 10-7.

All he did after that was record tackles on the next three plays. Then he blocked a field-goal attempt and later picked off three passes in a 17-7 win.

Throckmorton joined the list of Big Country state finalists in 1986. But the Greyhounds ran into a buzzsaw aginst Burkeville, losing 33-7, although it was just 13-7 at halftime. The top remembrance of this one was luckily I had called ahead to reserve a seat in the pressbox. Some writers didn't and had to sit outside in the cold.

The weather stole the show for the next three state championship games. In 1990, De Leon lost to Groveton and Rodney Thomas, 25-19, in the Class 2A title game on a late touchdown. The game was played in 17-degree weather in Waco and there was no heat in the pressbox. That's the only time I've seen writers wrapped in blankets. One who had covered an earlier game that day bought am electric heater between games to stay warm.

Munday's Class A game that year with Bartlett at Pennington Field in Bedford was postponed a couple of days because the Moguls couldn't get out of town because of an icestorm. So sports editor Al Picket froze with the team on Christmas Eve, watching Bartlett win, 36-28.

The next year, Albany faced Schulenburg in the Class 2A finals at Waco, and lost 25-0, in a game played during a three-inch rainstorm. The Lions were late arriving because some of the roads into Waco were closed because of the rain and they had to take a different route.

Goldthwaite made its first of three straight state championship appearances in 1992 and lost to Schulenburg, 35-20. But the Eagles came back the next two years to beat Paul Pewitt, 21-8, and Schulenburg, 20-16. Assistant sports editor Ted Dunnam, who watched Goldthwaite lose while I was recovering from foot surgery, also saw the Paul Pewitt win. Lance Fleming, now the sports information director at Abilene Christian University, followed the win over Schulenburg. The thing about those two Eagles teams was their lack of size but ability to play strong defense.

Those years, I was with Class 4A Stephenville watching the Yellow Jackets take care of La Marque, the same school they beat last week in the state finals. The last one turned out to be a cakewalk in the second half en route to a 34-7 win.

That wasn't the case in 1993 when Stephenville scored twice in the second half, the last touchdown coming in the waning minutes, for a 26-13 win. The next year, Stephenville trailed 14-0 at the half, then rallied for a 32-17 win. The big moment in the first game was a side-armed pass by quarterback Branndon Stewart, who, in spite of being of being tackled, hit a receiver for a key first down in the drive for the go-ahead touchdown. In the next meeting, it was a halftime speech by defensive coach Mike Copeland that helped fire up the team to score 32 points and hold La Marque to a field goal.

I missed the 1995 Class A championship game between Roscoe and Thorndale because of the illness of a grandson who passed away the next morning, but the Plowboys played a tremendous game despite losing, 14-7.

Rarely have I gotten to see Abilene High or Cooper play because of area school assignments, but it wasn't a happy sight at Texas Stadium in 1996 when Austin Westlake, despite a great performance by Dominic Rhodes, posted a 55-15 win over the Cougars.

Then Stephenville brought all of this to an end last Saturday with its convincing win. It was as strong a defensive performance that I have seen the Jackets play, and the offense wasn't bad either the last three quarters.

I've seen several Six-Man championship games but none come close to matching Gordon's 51-50 win over Whitharral in 1996. The winning touchdown came on fourth down from about 30 yards with two seconds left, but the big memory was the Longhorns getting a fifth down on that drive to keep it alive. But they had had a touchdown called back 28 seconds earlier on a controversial call.

Some have asked if I am going to write a book when I retire. The answer is no because you have just read it.

Bill Hart can be reached at 676-6773 or at