On Saturday Dec 17, before a crowd of about 42,000 at Cowboys Stadium, the Southlake Carroll High School football team completed a perfect season (16 wins, no losses) and won the Texas State 5A Div 1 Championship. It was an improbable run for a team that was expected to have a good year but ultimately went further than most could have imagined. These were not the Carroll Dragons of yore who trounced the opposition with the famed spread offense. Instead, we were treated to incredible poise at QB, receivers who stepped up, a running back who came on strong in the playoffs and a Defense that liked nothing better than to close up shop in the the second half.
The 2011 state championship represents the eighth for the school, including five at the top 5A level in the last eleven years. This kind of success makes Carroll one of the top H.S. football programs nationwide. But there's more: the boys soccer team are national champions in 2011 and the boys cross country team narrowly missed out on a national title, finishing second at the recent final meet in Oregon. Before anyone beats the "sports first" drum, Carroll is one of the top high schools academically in the state, sending freshmen to some of the best universities in the country.
But back to the national sport of Texas. The first Friday night football game of the season was a portent of things to come: a 38-31 win over Copperas Cove. Contested in blazing summer heat, it was typical of much of 2011: the Dragons came from behind and did just enough to win. Junior QB Kenny Hill threw for four TD's and rushed for another. The Defense stepped up in the fourth quarter, allowing zero points. It was a recipe for success we saw time and again in the playoffs, although in many of the regular season games, the Dragons built an early lead and then kind of hung on for the win. For the next 15 games there were few blowouts, almost all were nail biters (won at Fossil Ridge by 2!) but this seemed to give the team an air of confidence.
We went to all of the home games and followed the road sucesses closely on 100.7 FM radio. As the schedule wound down, it seemed an undefeated regular season was possible and this alone would have made 2011 a very good year. It was only when the Dragons overcame their 2010 nemesis Denton Guyer on the road for their tenth win that a strong playoff push might happen.
The first playoff game was staged at what seems to be the second home of Dragon Football: Cowboys Stadium a/k/a JerryWorld. There was some trepidation going in: we had not gone deep in the playoffs in a few years, Plano East looked decent on paper, our 2011 performances, etc. In typical fashion, we fell behind and were tied going into the fourth quarter but allowed no points in the last 12 minutes and won on an AJ Ezzard TD run. Injured when the season began, Ezzard had tremendous playoff performances. We left JerryWorld happy but not with high expectations.
The Dragon Band
This changed in the next couple of games. Again we were back in JerryWorld and Carroll played excellent football and Cedar Hill were beaten 40-7. Kenny and AJ combining for four rushing TD's.
Heavyweights: Trinty Trojans vs. Allen Eagles
The next game was another strong test. This time outdoors at Pennington Field and in cold blustery weather: Arlington Bowie were narrowly beaten 21-17 and the "D" stepped huge in the second half allowing no points. So after three playoff wins our confidence was gaining but the next opponent were no slouches. In fact, I am sure we were underdogs. Arlington Martin had just defeated the Trinity Trojans, who the prior week had knocked off the Allen Eagles. The Trojans and the Eagles were nationally ranked teams, so there was no doubt Martin was good.
The Dragons-Martin game was played at SMU's Ford Field in what can only be described as monsoon conditions. The rain was torrential at times and I was surprised the game was not rescheduled. The Dragon faithful were not out in full force given the rain (which was badly needed, BTW) and it looked like our passing game would suffer with a wet ball. Oh, ye of little faith: the Dragons prevailed 31-14. Drenched, we piled into Campesi's Egyptian and began to believe a run to the final was possible and that whatever rituals got us this far needed to continue.
The Monsoon Bowl
The following Saturday we were back at SMU to face a highly fancied Skyline outfit in a match-up of DFW area undefeated teams. Skyline brought a huge contingent. We brought our huge contingent. Something had to give. It was a game for the ages.
We lost one of our best receivers early on (Payton Williams) and down by 10 points with about two minutes left, we seemed to be toast. In fact, some Dragon fans left early and missed the craziest 90 seconds I have ever seen in HS football. A Kenny Hill rushing TD cut the deficit to three with something like a minute left. Our only hope was an onside kick, the equivalent of a Hail Mary. Lo and behold, it worked for once: we recovered the ball right on the 50 and after a 15 yard run by Ezzard, the Dragons surprised Skyline by not settling for a tie (and overtime) by kicking a field goal... Instead, QB Kenny Hill took off on an unforgettable dash to score the winning TD; the annals of embelishent will show he hurdled a fox along the way!
The fox definitely went more than 10 yards!
The game will be remembered for several things: the improbable comeback, the onside kick, the fox that ran on the field at the end and literally stayed around to see the Dragons pull victory from what seemed certain defeat. Some claim the onside kick did not go the requisite 10 yards. We were seated on the 50 and I can positively say it did. The Dallas Morning News has tried their darnedest to stir up controversy by giving voice to those who would claim otherwise. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram makes no such pretences. Such are the Tarrant County / Dallas County allegiances. I feel sorry for the Skyline players; they are a very good team but let's not forget their coaches turned down several chances to kick field goals or punt and ended up turning the ball over on downs. And even after we recovered the onside kick, we still had to go 50 yards to score. Where was the Skyline D? The debate over this game will rage for years. My memory will be of the fox, who became a defacto Carroll mascot for the final game of 2011: the State Championship at Jerry World versus the Fort Bend High Tower Hurricanes.
So to last Saturday, when superstitions ran riot as we tried to recall our prior playoff rituals, lucky hats, t-shirts, etc. The Dragons have their own playoff traditions: bleached blond hair, the black uniforms and "Lids" the great half-time garbage can drumming show. We headed to Cowboys Stadium trying to time the end of the 12pm game and get there for our 4pm kickoff. There was a huge crowd, both sporting green. The High Tower Hurricanes have at QB one of the best High School players in Texas, Bralon Addison, who has committed to Texas A&M. The Aggie's are in for a treat.
Addison tortured us all game and almost per usual, we trailed going into the final quarter. But true to form we gave up no points in Q4 and the State Title was won when Kenny Hill ran for a TD with a few minutes left. He made some fantastic throws but the highlight will be Sabian Holmes making an incredible defensive play to prevent a sure TD. And "Sabo" also came up big for the offense with a TD catch and 11 receptions for 138 yards. Kenny Hill again was a leader with 117 yards rushing and 229 through the air. AJ Ezzard ran for 84 yards and to think we are fortunate enough to have both AJ and Kenny back in 2012. Will Davis was huge on D, wreaking havoc left and right. Final score: Dragons 36, Hurricanes 29.
Texas State Championship Game 2011, Cowboys Stadium
It was an improbable season that started on a Friday night under the lights in the blistering August heat and ended with another close but deserved win in the climate controlled World of Jerry. Every game was enjoyable. Congratulations to Coach Wasson and his staff and we wish the seniors good luck in college. They will undoubtedly never forget the 2011 Dragons sixteen win season and record tying eighth State title.