(Area playoff pairings are at the end of this story.)
Few things in team sports are sweeter than going from worst to first.
Just ask the players on the Memorial football team. The Minutemen won their first district championship in school history Friday after an 0-10 season last year.
Given its history – Memorial lost 51 consecutive games from 1983 through 1989 and has gone winless 18 times since its first season in 1967 – the Minutemen’s turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable.
Memorial’s 55-20 rout of Edgewood ISD rival Kennedy in the Salsa Bowl touched off a wild celebration at Edgewood Veterans Stadium, where an overflow crowd estimated at 9,700 saw the Minutemen win their sixth consecutive game after a 1-3 start.
“As the final seconds ticked down, and at that point you know the game is over and there’s no possible way you’re going to lose this game, it was almost a surreal moment,” second-year Memorial head coach Kemmie Lewis said Sunday. “You’re thinking, is this really happening? You think of all the things that have happened over the years of losing and nobody is behind you, and it’s coming to pass. We’ve done it.
"The goal we set on Aug. 7 in that meeting room in the school auditorium to have a winning season and be a district champion and make the playoffs, all in one year, came to pass. As those seconds ticked down, it was just an amazing feeling like no other.”
The celebration at Veterans Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 8,500, continued with what became another block party at Memorial, located a stone’s throw from the St. Mary’s University campus off Culebra Road.
Fans have gathered at the Memorial campus after every game since the Minutemen started their drive for the district title with a victory over Jefferson on Sept. 15. The crowds have gotten bigger with each victory in the ensuing weeks.
“It’s incredible how these kids have lifted the whole Memorial community,” EISD athletic director Robert Gomez said Sunday. “Everybody is just so proud of them. It’s been an amazing thing to see.”
Memorial (7-3) plays Victoria West (4-5) in the first round of the Class 5A Division II playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium in Victoria.
“Our kids are excited about going on the road,” Lewis said. “When you think playoffs, you’ve got to win on the road. There are going to be games where you don’t play at home. Our kids know that we’ve got to take care of business no matter where we play. They wanted the full playoff experience.
“The great thing is that I think we’re going to have a big following. Just listening to people talk about going to Victoria and getting phone calls from people asking where the game is going to be makes me think we’re going to have a pretty good following in Victoria.”
The Minutemen had advanced to the postseason only one other time in school history, losing to Lanier 20-14 in a 1998 first-round game and finishing 5-6. This year’s team recorded Memorial’s first winning season since 1994, when the Minutemen went 5-4-1 under coach Oscar Valenzuela, who also led them to their only playoff appearance four years later.
Lewis was an assistant coach at Memorial for four seasons before getting promoted in 2016, when Alex Guerra resigned to become head coach at La Villa. Although the Minutemen finished 0-10 for the ninth time in 13 seasons last year, Lewis remained optimistic about the chances of a turnaround in 2017.
He even told Gomez in a conversation in the spring that he thought Memorial could win six or seven games this season.
“I did some research on the teams in our district and who they were bringing back,” Lewis said. “For me, it was realistic then to make that assumption that this could happen this way, based on the research.
“I’m not a prophet or anything, but you knew it could happen if only your group bought in and did everything you asked them to do. Our players have done that since before the season. They’ve worked hard to reach their goals, and they’re not through yet.”
The Minutemen want to make more history by winning a playoff game.
“We want to keep everything pretty routine,” Lewis said. “Don’t try to do too much. Don’t overthink the process. Let the process happen. This game is another game. It’s an opportunity to play the game that we love.”
Gomez said the toughest part of Friday night was turning away fans because there was no more room in the stadium. But even then, they stayed.
“I apologized to one young man,” Gomez said. “He said, ‘No problem. I just want to see and be a part of history.’”
About 200 more fans joined the standing-room-only crowd when Gomez opened the gates to the stadium with about eight minutes left in the game.
“As people left, we let people in,” Gomez said.
After the game, Gomez presented Memorial with the Salsa Bowl Trophy.
“Only a handful of people knew that we had purchased a gold football (trophy),” he said. “Before I pulled it out of the box, I asked the PA announcer to ask for silence, which the fans complied with.
“When I pulled that trophy out of the box, the place erupted. There were adults with tears in their eyes. It was an amazing feeling.”
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), Comalander Stadium, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
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.