It can be difficult to gauge when a game becomes more than a game. Sports are often used as outlets for political expression or to rejuvenate communities that typically don’t have hope. Sometimes, these things are accurately named as such as they happen, as with Brett Favre’s miraculous Monday Night Football game the day after his father died. Sometimes they’re awarded posthumously, like with Jesse Owens in the ’36 Olympics. Sometimes they’re missed entirely, as evidenced by the time multiple national media outlets erroneously labeled Texas as “back” after beating a Notre Dame teams that turned out to be trash.
With San Angelo Central and Allen, it became more than a game the second it was announced. This is San Angelo Central, the best team to come out of West Texas since Abilene in 2009, the jewel in the region’s currently dilapidated and outdated crown. West Texas is the most storied region in football, with Odessa Permian, Midland Lee, Abilene, San Angelo Central, and the Friday Night Lights mystique that permeates the region.
In order for a West Texas team to reach playoff glory, they have to beat a team from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and no team is more quintessentially DFW than Allen. It’s the 60 million dollar stadium, the three straight state and national championships. It’s the glitz and the glamour and the flash, and while teams from West Texas surely have that at times, it’s nowhere near as glaring as the DFW teams.
It’s been a source of frustration for West Texas, so much so that they seem to have rallied around San Angelo in a way that we haven’t seen in a long time. This week, I was doing some work at a coffee shop in Abilene, a few miles from my parent’s house, where we were about to celebrate Thanksgiving. There was a group of young men who went to ACU who were not merely discussing this game, but earnestly discussing it, talking Cal Vincent and Daven Manning against the Allen linebackers, Mitchell Jonke taking on the Central DBs. This was a huge deal across a region that’s felt neglected, a region rabid about high school football, a region that helped engrave the supremacy of Texas High School Football on the record books.
Saying this is a big deal is an understatement.
Lines wrapped around tennis courts and threatened to extend into the streets of San Angelo three hours before game time. Fans sold out tickets at 1:30 in the morning. It’s the biggest crowd that’s ever been at San Angelo Stadium. It’s a game that’s been discussed ad nauseum in towns like Lubbock and Midland, Bronte and Amarillo. It’s the pride of West Texas vs. the perfect team from Dallas.
Allen began completely unfazed by the massive crowd in San Angelo, scoring in 5 plays. Central struck right back on a 29 yard Cal Vincent keeper. It was obvious from the beginning that this game would be won or lost by who could get a turnover or two. Star LB Gehrig Scott stepped up in a big way on the next Allen drive, and Allen was forced to punt.
Central was forced to punt as well, but an Allen muffed punt gave the Bobcat drive new life. The play of the day was easily a one-handed grab by senior 6’8 wideout Adam West. After a 44 yard run from Mitchell Jonke to tie the game at 14, ponchos began coming out as raindrops began to fall on the heads of the 20,000+ seated at San Angelo Stadium.
Central went for it on 4th and short three times in the first quarter, and they got it twice. Allen, while struggling across the defensive line, was having no problem ripping off chunks of San Angelo’s stout defense in the run game. In the end, Mitchell Jonke hit a great pass to a streaking wideout to put Allen up 21-14.
Central punted again, and Allen began to drive, looking to go up two scores in the second quarter. Jonke hit a streaking Carson Schleker, and Allen held a two touchdown lead. It was the most Central had trailed by all year.
Vincent hit Henry Teeter for a deep touchdown to move the Bobcats back within striking distance, but the rain would render any offense inept. As it began to come down, both teams reverted to their running games, and it became more of a slog than ever.
Michael Ewton hit a huge 48 yard field goal with seven seconds left in the half to put Allen up 31-21. As the rain poured in to San Angelo Stadium, the teams field into the locker room.
After a slog of an opening to the second half that coincided with Maverick McIvor stepping in for the injured Cal Vincent, We finally saw a semblance of offense after an impressive Kirby Bennett run that ended in a field goal for Allen.
The combination of the injury to their stellar QB and the game being played on a virtual slip and slide doomed Central. Their colossal home field advantage melted away as well as the rain dampened the fans who had come unprepared. It’s very easy to say that if things had been different, Central could’ve won, but we don’t play games based on hypotheticals and you don’t get best of three series in the playoffs.
Central wouldn’t become the team to lead West Texas back to the promised land, as Allen rolled over them with a stout defense and impressive run game, spearheaded by Kirby Bennett and Mitchell Jonke. The resurgence of West Texas will have to come from another division and classification.
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