(Area playoff pairings are at the end of this story.)
SAN ANTONIO - Thanksgiving is only days away, deer-hunting season is here, and cooler temperatures are in the weekend forecast.
It’s the first Friday of the high school football playoffs in Texas.
“I’m as excited as a kid,” O’Connor coach David Malesky said Thursday. “I feel like I should be suiting up tomorrow night.”
Even in an age when the only constant is change, the color, pageantry and tradition of a game played by teenagers still galvanizes communities across the state from mid-November until state champions are crowned on the last Saturday before Christmas.
Whether it’s at state powerhouse Judson or at Memorial, which is making only its second postseason appearance Friday night since opening 50 years ago, the playoffs are synonymous with excitement, high-stakes drama and finality.
“It’s a win-or-go home type deal,” Judson coach Sean McAuliffe said Thursday. “The thrill of the whole thing is that there’s got to be a Cinderella story somewhere in there. Teams get hot and they may go in with a record that shows they just barely got in. Euless Trinity, in 1992, was 5-5 when they got into the playoffs and they were 9-5 when they played for a state championship.
“It’s just an exciting time of the year. It’s a lot of fun. In our community, there’s definitely a buzz and the excitement picks up a little bit more when the playoffs roll around.”
McAuliffe was a senior defensive tackle for Judson in 1992 when the Rockets rolled to a 52-0 blowout of Euless Trinity for the 5A Division I title.
The playoffs started with a handful of games Thursday, but the bi-district round kicks into high gear Friday night.
Judson (9-1) hosts Warren (6-4) in a Class 6A Division I game at 7:30 Friday. Making their 33rd playoff appearance in the last 36 seasons, the Rockets were picked this summer by Texas Football magazine to win state.
McAuliffe made it clear he isn’t thinking that far ahead.
“Our kids know that we’re looking to earn the next Monday,” he said. “You’re not guaranteed the next Monday unless you earn it. I think the focus and all the other stuff that we preach kind of gets kicked up a notch, and it needs to, to doing all the little things right.
“It’s the teams that do the little things the best that usually have the best chance of moving on, and all that other good stuff. We take the approach that it’s not time to rest. This is the time we step on the gas pedal a little bit harder. We’re going to practice with a little more intensity.”
Memorial’s first playoff season since 1998 has been nothing short of remarkable. After an 0-10 finish last year in their first season under coach Kemmie Lewis, the Minutemen won their first district championship in school history and have lifted an entire community.
Long a doormat in San Antonio high school football circles, Memorial lost 51 consecutive games from 1983 through 1989 and has gone winless 18 times since its first season in 1967. But that’s ancient history to the 2017 Minutemen.
“It’s been an amazing thing to see,” said Lewis, an assistant coach at Memorial for four seasons before getting promoted in 2016. “It’s been great to see these kids have success after all the hard work they’ve put in. They’ve made a lot of people proud. The whole community is excited about the playoffs.”
Memorial (7-3) meets Victoria West (4-5) in a 5A Division II playoff game Friday night at Memorial Stadium in Victoria.
“Our players are excited about going to Victoria,” Lewis said. “They know it’s a business trip. We’ve had a good week of practice and we’re ready. Victoria West has a good team, but I believe we’ll be on an even playing field with them.”
McAuliffe and O’Connor coach David Malesky, whose Panthers finished the regular season 10-0 for the first time in school history, are among coaches across Greater San Antonio who have been heartened by Memorial’s turnaround season.
“Hats off to them,” McAuliffe said. “It’s a neat deal. It’s great for high school football. It validates why we do what we do as coaches. I’m sure they’ve energized their community. I’m sure there are all kinds of pep rallies planned over there.”
The son of a high school football coach, Malesky was a senior linebacker at Judson in 1983 when the Rockets won their first state championship. He has been at O’Connor for all 15 of the Panthers’ playoff seasons, serving as defensive coordinator under Danny Padron for eight seasons before succeeding him as head coach in 2010.
But before he went to O’Connor, he endured some tough seasons at Jay as an assistant coach and at Jourdanton as head coach before experiencing success at both schools.
“Everybody’s not going to win a state championship, but there are going to be a lot of teams across the state of Texas that are going to have a state-championship kind of year,” Malesky said. “And regardless of what Memorial does, to me, what those coaches and what those kids have done, that’s going to be a state championship.
“That’s why sports can be so involving in a community and how it can change a community. That’s why I’m so excited for Memorial, that for them to be where they are and to have done what they’ve done is just incredible.”
O’Connor capped its perfect regular season with a 44-41 overtime victory against Brennan in the District 28-6A title game. The Panthers finished the season No. 1 in the KENS 5 area Class 6A rankings.
None of that will matter Friday night when O’Connor plays Clemens (8-2) in a 6A Division I bi-district game Friday night at Farris Stadium.
“There’s going to be time for us to sit back and reflect on our season, whatever that season is,” Malesky said. “It’s nice for people to recognize you and congratulate you on having a great regular season, but we’re not going to get any more points in this playoff game. Clemens isn’t going to give us any more points.
“What matters at this point is our preparation for the game, and the only game we’ve got left at this point is against Clemens. As a coach, you tell your players, ‘We’re going to go out there and we’re going to give all that we have.’ There’s no point in holding anything back. No point or holding something for the next week because there may not be a next week."
Burbank also has had a turnaround season this year, finishing 5-5 after going 1-10 in 2016 and 0-10 in 2015. The Bulldogs made the playoffs in 2013, but they finished 3-8 after losing in the first round.
Burbank, third in District 28-5A this season, plays Richmond Foster (6-3) in a 5A Division I bi-district game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Alamo Stadium.
“It’s been a great year,” Bulldogs coach Mark Perez said. “Words can’t express how proud my coaches and I are of these kids. They stuck with it. They trusted the process. We wouldn’t trade these kids for anybody else.
“The week’s been great. Our players have worked hard. They’ve got a little pep in their step. They’re flying around in practice. They’re playing with confidence. We have some good seniors that have stuck with us.”
San Antonio area first-round playoff pairings
Class 6A Division I
Madison (4-6) at Austin Lake Travis (8-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Warren (6-4) at Judson (9-1), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
La Joya (6-4) at Southwest (8-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Reagan (8-2) vs. Buda Hays (4-6), Friday, 7:30 p.m,, Comalander Stadium.
O'Connor (10-0) vs. Clemens (8-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Farris Stadium
Class 6A Division II
MacArthur (5-5) at Austin Westlake (10-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Jay (7-3) at Smithson Valley (9-1), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Johnson (8-2) vs. Austin Vandegrift (6-4), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Heroes Stadium
Brennan (6-4) vs. Steele (6-4), Friday, Friday, 7:30 p.m., Gustafson Stadium
Class 5A Division I
Austin High (7-3) vs. Boerne Champion (5-5), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Unicorn Stadium, New Braunfels
Angleton (9-0) vs. Highlands (7-3), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Alamo Stadium
Corpus Christi Flour Bluff (8-1) at Southside (8-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Burbank (5-5) vs. Richmond Foster (6-3), Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Alamo Stadium
Class 5A Division II
Austin McCallum (10-0) at Medina Valley (6-4), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Rosenberg Terry (4-4) vs. Sam Houston (6-4), Friday, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Traylor Stadium, Rosenberg
Floresville (6-4) at Alice (7-3), Friday, 8 p.m.
Austin Crockett (3-7) at Kerrville Tivy (8-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Memorial (7-3) vs. Victoria West (4-5), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Memorial Stadium, Victoria
Corpus Christi Calallen (10-0) vs. Uvalde (6-4), Friday, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Eschenburg Field, Floresville
Class 4A Division I
Waco La Vega (10-0) vs. Fredericksburg (6-4), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Pflugerville
La Vernia (5-5) vs. Kingsville King (6-4), Friday, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Wildcat Stadium, Portland
Canyon Lake (8-2) vs. Gatesville (7-3), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Gupton Stadium, Leander
Pleasanton (9-1) vs. Rio Grande City (5-5), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Corpus Christi Flour Bluff
Somerset (8-2) vs. Zapata (4-5), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Shirley Field, Laredo
Boerne (8-2) vs. Liberty Hill (7-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Dripping Springs
Class 4A Division II
Carrizo Springs (3-7) vs. Wimberley (9-1), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Harlandale Memorial Stadium
Hondo (2-8) at Pearsall (10-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Devine (3-7) vs. Navarro (9-1), Thursday, 7 p.m., Harlandale Memorial Stadium
Class 3A Division I
Yoakum (9-1) vs. Randolph (5-5), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Matador Stadium, Seguin
Hallettsville (8-1) vs. Cole (6-4), Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Cuero
Class 3A Division II
Odem (6-4) vs. Stockdale (4-6), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Refugio H.S.
Corpus Christi London (6-3) at Poth (9-1), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Class 2A Division II
Falls City (8-2) vs. Agua Dulce (4-6), Thursday, 7 p.m., Thursday, Three Rivers H.S.
TAPPS first round
Holy Cross (7-3) vs. Houston Westbury Christian (6-3), Friday, 7 p.m., Houston Baptist University
Dallas Parish Episcopal (4-6) at Central Catholic (6-4), Saturday, 6 p.m.