Three Reasons Why High School Upsets are the Best

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Photo via Warren Schorr
By: Hunter Cooke
August 8th, 2016

Everyone loves a good upset. They’re the climax of every scrappy underdog story, the culmination of most young people’s sports dreams, and they can be the talk of the town for years on end. Most football fanatics can recall Plaxico Burress’s game winning catch in Super Bowl XLII or Iowa State upsetting Oklahoma State at home in 2011. Being the underdog is such an easy motivator that even the #1 team in the nation will scour the newspapers for the one writer that doesn’t have them predicted to win the national championship and use it as motivation.

When you mix the innate emotion that comes with being the underdog with High School football, you get something completely different. Upsets in College and the NFL are great, but the parity in those leagues make them somewhat expected at times. I love me a good college football upset, but the king of upsets will always be High School football. Here are three good reasons why.

1.There’s often a massive talent disparity between the two teams. 

There’s no way around it: there are teams that are more talented than others. Some ridiculously so. Everyone would love to be as stacked with D1 talent as a Cedar Hill or a Desoto, but the bottom line is most teams aren’t. When High School upsets happen, there’s a solid chance that the underdog has maybe one or two players going D1 and the team picked to win will have 6-7, especially in the playoffs. When you get one of these underdog schools playing one of those schools with a full arsenal of talent, the underdog school isn’t just playing for bragging rights, they’re playing for their careers.

Everyone has to quit football someday. That’s a simple fact of life. The emotion and the rage and the unwillingness to go down from a player playing for the right to continue playing is beautiful, especially when he begins showing up the player that will tell us where he’s going to continue his career on national television.

Talented players losing to relatively untalented players is a key element of any upset or underdog story. Nowhere is that talent gap more apparent than in High School. By the same token, the wider the talent gap, the more impressive the upset.

2. High School upsets are the culmination of 7-8 years of work. 

If you know anything about football at the High School level, you know that most middle schools and peewee teams run the exact same offense and defense the high school teams run. That way when they get to the varsity level, they already know the plays or the calls in some form or fashion. These kids have grown up in the system and wearing the colors of their team. It’s a source of birthplace or hometown pride doubled by the fact that they’ve spent nearly a decade playing the same teams.

The power teams, the Aledos, the Celinas, and the Cedar Hills are often dominant at those young levels too. If an upset happens during district, there’s a chance that the winning team lost anywhere from five to six times before they finally got the win. The underdog doesn’t just get revenge for two or three years of being beaten like a drum, they get revenge for up to a third of their current lives. For the 16, 17, or 18 year old kid, they’ve sometimes spent seven years hearing about how hard they were going to get beat. It’s a longevity that’s really only matched by the NFL, and even then the NFL has too much parity to truly create the unbeatable titan.

3. The underdogs are fighting for their careers.

Whether the underdog plays the team picked to win in district or in the playoffs, everything is about surviving and advancing.

With the expanded playoff system, there’s a fair amount of teams that make the playoffs every year. More teams getting in means more potential for upsets, and also means more teams playing for their careers. We’ve touched on it a little bit, but there is no fight more fierce when something might be taken away from you forever. This is true in football and in real life, it’s easy to take an L when you know you’ll live to fight another day.

The talent disparity also means that these underdog teams are usually comprised of young men who will never put on a football helmet ever again. If they lose, they’re done. The joy of getting to play the game that they love for one more week is indescribable, it’s like you’re getting away with something that you shouldn’t.

Upsets are part of what make sports fun to watch. Nowhere are they better than at the High School level.

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