Ennis High School last played Aledo in the fifth round of the 2013 playoffs, and it wasn’t a happy ending for the Lions.
They lost the game 29-6, and the day was a miserable and cold way to end their hopes at a shot at the state championship game. But that was what transpired six years ago when these two schools met before.
In fact, the Lions even had a different coach back then in Jack Alvarez, who is now at Copperas Cove.
However, things have certainly changed since then … or have they?
The Lions now have their longtime “Hall of Fame” head coach Sam Harrell back at the helm, and many of his former coaches have remained at EHS, while some of his former old-time staff members have rejoined him at Ennis.
Under Harrell in his first year back in 2018, the Lions could only muster a first-round trip to the playoffs, and they were eliminated immediately.
This year feels like a true Harrell team with all his coaching parts in the right place and with just the right mix of confidence, humbleness and character of his players. So far, the Lions are playing the style of football Harrell wanted to bring back to his hometown of Ennis, and they seem to be on a good roll at the moment.
After suffering with a terrible bout with multiple sclerosis in 2010, Harrell had to step away from his role as head coach to focus on his own health. After a brief hiatus from football and after several out-of-the-country visits to Panama to undergo stem cell treatments, he was ready and well enough to work his way back to coaching the game he loves.
Harrell returned to the gridiron in 2012 as assistant coach at his former alma mater Brownwood. From there, he went on to coach for a three-year stint at Fort Worth Christian, and then he moved to the small college ranks at Waxahachie’s Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU), where he fit in nicely as their offensive coordinator.
This left him a short commute to travel from Ennis to Waxahachie and back home to Ennis every week day. Harrell admitted that he was happy at SAGU, but after Alvarez decided to move to accept the head coaching job at Copperas Cove, he jumped at the chance to get back to where he had been most comfortable (15 years prior to getting MS).
In fact, Harrell led Ennis to three state championships in 2000, 2001 and 2004 during this first tenure there.
The Aledo football program has such a rich tradition of winning. This organization has been the perennial state title champions for six of the last 10 years in both 4A and 5A classifications.
They have had a tremendous amount of success, particularly because of excellent coaching, as well. The Bearcats have also undergone some leadership changes at their school this season. In fact, their head coach is once again Tim Buchanan, the longtime Aledo football coach who built the Parker County school into a state powerhouse.
He had stepped down in 2014 to become the district’s athletic director. However, he made the decision to return to be the head coach of the Bearcats again – this 2019 season.
All this being said, this match-up of Ennis and Aledo looks to be a hard-fought battle between these two well-coached teams. The Bearcats have definitely had a super year and have scored a high amount of points offensively. However, they may have not faced a tougher defense than that of the Lions.
Several polls have placed Aledo and Ennis as almost dead-even in scouting reports. This sports correspondent thinks this game will be decided by the better defense, and this year, the Ennis Lions just may have the edge.
One of Ennis’ captains, senior linebacker Dane Vernor says, “We regularly beat more talented and much bigger teams than us, but we often win because nobody outworks the Lions.”
Vernor continues, “We can’t tell you how much we love Coach Harrell. To overcome multiple sclerosis and to come back to coach us, there’s not enough words to express how much he means to us. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be able to play for Sam Harrell. Not only is he a tremendous head coach, but he loves us and cares for us.”
In conclusion, Friday night’s game at The Star in Frisco might be a better head-to-head contest than the final one played for the actual Class 5A, Division II state title. Either way, this game is stacking up to be a real barn burner.
Kickoff set for 7:30 p.m.
Aledo is making the state quarterfinals for the seventh straight season after beating Red Oak last week, and Ennis returns for the first time since 2014 after beating Frisco.