By: Tony Thomas
Over 40 years ago, a Houston-area high school went 15-0 and won the 4A State Championship in football. But most people don’t talk about this team like they do other past Texas high school champions. This team featured eight players that signed Division 1 college scholarships, including a record setting running back. They were the 1978 Houston Stratford Spartans.
A Juggernaut of Offense
Stratford had a tough running back named Craig James. James set a Class 4A record with 2,411 yards rushing and he was one of seven players in Texas to rush for over 2000 that season. James carried the ball fewer than 15 times per game.
James helped lead an offense that could not be stopped. He ran behind a wall of blockers in the Wishbone offense, helping Stratford gain 7,000 yards rushing as a team. They scored 532 points, the second-most in Class 4A history.
But Stratford should be remembered because that season they beat three teams that had won state championships in previous years:
- Port Neches-Groves (1975 State Champion).
- San Antonio Churchill (1976 State Champion).
- Plano (1977 State Champion).
A Dominant Defense
Like the phalanx of ancient Sparta, Stratford was unyielding on defense. They were a shield wall that was impenetrable by opposing offenses. They allowed opponents to score just 10 point per game, both in the regular season and in the playoffs:
- Defeated Port Neches-Groves 30-28. Spartans QB Mark Gabrisch led the game-winning drive.
- Defeated LaPorte 27-7. James: 208 yards rushing 2 TDs.
- Defeated Lamar Consolidated 48-6. The Spartans gained 604 yards and gained 41 first downs.
- Defeated Elsik 42-6. Stratford defense stops six drives inside their own 25-yard line.
- Defeated Spring Woods 14-6. Defense held Spring Woods to only seven first downs and 36 yards rushing.
- Defeated Memorial 31-0.
- Defeated Hastings 49-7.
- Defeated Spring Branch 34-6. FB Greg Koch scored 2 TDs.
- Defeated Northbrook 52-12. James: 238 yards rushing.
- Defeated Westchester 41-22. James: 280 yards rushing.
- Defeated Madison 44-6. Spartans outgained Madison 503 yards to 99.
- Defeated Kashmere 31-9.
- Defeated LaPorte 35-14. James tops the 2000-yard mark.
- Defeated San Antonio Churchill 24-7. James set 4A rushing record.
- Defeated Plano 29-13 for the 4A title before 29,000+ fans at the Astrodome.
The Plano Game
Against Plano, James scored three touchdowns rushed for 133 yards in the second half, including an 80-yard touchdown run.
The Spartans held Plano scoreless in the 1st and 3rd quarters and held a slim 13-7 lead at halftime.
Gabrisch added 215 total yards and threw 2 TD passes, including one to James.
On to the Next Level
Among other players who contributed to the Spartans success that season were Chuck Thomas (signed with Oklahoma) and Chris Jackson (SMU), both were all-conference selections.
James went on to SMU, where he teamed with Eric Dickerson to form the “Pony Express”. At SMU, James rushed for 3742 career yards and scored 23 touchdowns.
He was a 7th round pick of the New England Patriots in the 1983 NFL Draft. James is also a former announcer with ABC Sports and ESPN. In 1988, James was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.
The 1978 Houston Stratford Spartans were clearly a dominant football team in Class 4A and should be recognized and remembered as such. A powerful offense running on all cylinders combined with a stonewall of a defense. That’s how championships are won in Texas high school football.
Material for this article sourced from:
Article: “Stratford 1978 State Title Team Often Overlooked; History’s mystery Stratford’s 1978 State Champs Put Together a Dominating Season but Usually Are Overlooked Among Texas’ All-Time Best Teams” by David Barron, chron.com, December 18, 2008.