SAN ANTONIO – Not many coaches can say they’ve beaten Corpus Christi Calallen football coach Phil Danaher during his long, stellar career.
Even fewer can say they’ve beaten him twice.
Johnson coach Ron Rittmann will get that opportunity when the Jaguars take on the Wildcats, long a powerhouse in the UIL’s second-largest classification, at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Comalander Stadium.
Danaher became the state’s all-time leader in career victories among Texas high school football coaches last year, eclipsing the record held by G.A. Moore, who won 426 games at Celina and Pilot Point.
Calallen rolled to a 35-7 victory over Mercedes in its season opener last week, pushing Danaher’s career record to 433-107-4. Now in his 34th season with the Wildcats, Danaher is 365-70-2 at Calallen.
“What they’ve done at Calallen is pretty special,” Rittmann said Friday morning. “I think they do it the right way and Coach Danaher obviously gets the credit for that. Anytime you go to a place, especially in today’s day and time, and stay somewhere for a lengthy period of time, that’s not the common thing anymore.
“Most coaches are moving around and going to the next-best job. I think Coach Danaher just made up his mind that he was going to make Calallen the best job for him and he stayed there and has done a great job.”
Danaher, 68, is in his 44th season overall. He began his career in San Antonio, in 1971, as an assistant coach at Edison, and landed his first head-coaching job at Dilley three years later. He also was head coach at Hamshire-Fannett for six seasons (1978-83) before starting his long tenure at Calallen in 1984.
"It's always a good trip when we go to San Antonio," Danaher said Friday morning. "We've played a lot of playoff games up there through the years. It'll be tough because we're playing a much bigger school, but our kids are excited. We have a big following and our fans show up. They're very supportive."
Johnson, with an enrollment of more than 3,000, competes in the University Interscholastic League's largest classification (6A), and has more than twice as many students as Calallen (1,260).
One fan who won't make the trip to San Antonio is Danaher's wife, Anita, who was involved in a major car accident last month. Anita Danaher, who is deputy superintendent of the Calallen ISD, is recovering at home. She attended last week's opener at Calallen, but will miss Friday night's game against Johnson.
It will be the first game Anita Danaher misses since Danaher became a head coach 43 years ago.
"She's getting better every day, but it's going to be a long recovery," Danaher said.
The Wildcats have made the playoffs every year since 1985 under Danaher, who was born in Saint Joseph, Mo., but grew up in Harlingen.
Johnson beat Calallen 17-12 at Wildcat Stadium in Week 2 last year despite getting outgained 360-174 in total offensive yardage. The Jags jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first 12:35 of the game before the Wildcats narrowed their deficit to five points with a touchdown in the third quarter and another midway through the fourth period.
“There are a lot of games where the stats do make the story of the game, but there are some other games where it’s the intangibles that make the difference. Turnovers, sometimes a good bounce of the ball, sometimes the way you execute a specialty play, a trick play. That’s really what happened in that game.
“We did some things at the right time. We had some kids make some plays. That’s exactly how it happened, but I can promise you this: From all the stories that I’ve heard and now that I’ve actually been there, that is not a good place to go play a football game. It is tough.”
Rittimann, 50, described the environment at a Calallen home game as "awesome."
“It is the definition of Friday night lights, Friday night football, because it’s a community event,” he said. “They bring a ton of people out, they’ve got the barbecue pits going. They’ve got music going. It’s an event.”
The loss to Johnson was the only one of the regular season for Calallen, which went on to reach the Class 5A Division II state final. Aledo beat the Wildcats 24-16, denying Danaher the state championship that has eluded him. Calallen also lost in the 2005 finals, falling to Hebron 28-0.
Johnson held on to beat Brandeis 31-28 in its opener last week, getting 125 yards and two touchdowns on only 14 carries from running back Alex Rodriguez. Senior wide receiver Brandon McDuffie scored on an 83-yard kickoff return after Brandeis took a 21-10 lead with 7:48 left in the third quarter, igniting a 21-0 Johnson run that sparked the Jaguars to victory.
Johnson, No. 6 in the KENS 5 Class 6A rankings, is in its 10th season. Rittimann, the only head coach the Jags have had, is 54-47 and guided Johnson to the state semifinals in 2013.
In other Friday night games involving teams in the 6A rankings, No. 2 Steele (1-0) plays at Austin Lake Travis (0-1); No. 4 Smithson Valley (1-0) is on the road against Austin Anderson (0-1); No. 5 Reagan (1-0) meets Laredo United (0-1) at Heroes Stadium; No. 8 Clemens (1-0) hosts MacArthur (0-1) at Lehnhoff Stadium; and No. 9 New Braunfels (1-0) is at longtime rival Seguin (1-0).
Top-ranked Judson, which beat Lake Travis 65-45 in its opener, faces Brennan (0-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Farris Stadium. No. 10 Warren (1-0) plays Madison (0-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Gustafson Stadium.
No. 3 O’Connor (2-0) routed No. 7 Churchill 45-14 in the only 6A area game Thursday night.
Kerrville Tivy, No. 1 in the Sub-6A rankings, hosts Del Rio at 7:30 p.m. Friday. No. 2 Somerset (2-0) beat Sam Houston 30-28 Thursday night.
In other games involving ranked Sub-6A teams Friday night, No. 3 Boerne Champion (0-1) plays Stevens (0-1) at Gustafson Stadium; No. 4 Alamo Heights (0-1) faces Brandeis (0-1) at Farris Stadium; No. 6 Navarro (1-0) is at Marion (1-0); and No. 9 Antonian (1-0) hosts Hondo (0-1). All games kick off at 7:30.
No. 5 Highlands defeated Holmes 47-33 Thursday night. Highlands is in its first season under coach Hank Willis, who succeeded Juan Morales, now head coach at Holmes, early in the year. Morales led the Owls to two consecutive 7-4 playoff seasons before leaving Highlands to coach the Huskies.
In other Thursday night games, No. 7 Canyon Lake (2-0) beat Austin Reagan 48-6; No. 8 Holy Cross downed Blanco 21-0; and No. 10 Central Catholic (2-0) defeated McCollum 39-13.