by admin | December 12, 2014 9:57 am
ZEPHYR, TEXAS — As sunset approached, the sky streaked with pastels of orange and blue, and a full moon beginning to rise, the six-man football state championship got underway at Bulldog Field. Zephyr is in Brown County, on the edge of West Texas, in goat country. Seemingly out of nowhere, the stadium lights appeared after our 306-mile drive, which included a couple wrong turns when the GPS tricked me. We pulled into a gravel parking lot, dust filling the air. Zephyr means “gentle, mild breeze,” and wind was ruffling the American flag near the concession stand.
The place felt like the football version of “Field of Dreams,” isolated and surrounded by pasture. They built it, and we came. This small stadium, which normally serves as the home of the 1A Zephyr Bulldogs, has artificial turf, a flawless asphalt track and brighter lights than most places where I shot photos this season.
The title game featured the Trinity School of Texas Titans vs. the Fredericksburg Heritage Christian Eagles. Trinity is where our daughter Abbie attends high school in Longview and is a cheerleader. Going into the final match, the Titans were undefeated at 12-0. The Titans enjoyed a stellar season, winning most of their games by the mercy rule, which goes into effect if one team is leading by 45 points or more by halftime. Going into the final game, the team averaged eight touchdowns a game, winning most of their games scoring 60 or 70-plus points.
My introduction to six-man football came while running the Fort Stockton Pioneer in the late 1980s for the same company I work for now. Six-man is a lot of fun to watch, because there is plenty of scoring with fewer players than in regular football. Nearly all the rules are the same, with some exceptions. The major differences, besides the mercy rule, are:
The games fly by, being shorter of duration and filled with action. The Titans often headed home at halftime with the mercy rule, which made the matches even quicker.
But that would not be the case in Zephyr. Heritage Christian has made it to the state finals eight of the last 10 years, and this was its fourth straight title game. They had won five times in a decade, but had been defeated three times during the regular season. But this was a team used to playing for the state championship. And they were big, considerably larger than the Titans with about twice as many players.
The Titans fought valiantly, as sportswriters like to say, but fell short, 46-16. After the game, tears flowed freely as all the players, coaches, cheerleaders and other support staff gathered in the center of the field. Each head coach talked to the players from both teams, reminding them that football was not the most important thing in life, that both teams had much to be proud of, and to savor this moment because both teams had played like champions.
Indeed they had. The Titans worked incredibly hard to get to this level. After all, the program is only in its fifth year, and success breeds further success. I predict the program will be a powerhouse again next year. Our daughter will be on the sidelines again, in her final year as a cheerleader.
The Titans filed into the locker room, walking through a gauntlet of fans chanting, “We are proud of you.”
We got in my SUV to begin the long drive from Zephyr back to East Texas. The moon still shined brightly.
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