Friday, Nov 16 at 6:28 PM
Next month will mark 32 years since Port Arthur Jefferson, led by quarterback Todd Dodge, beat Holmes in the Class 5A state semifinals at Memorial Stadium in Austin.
“I cried all the way home from Austin,” O’Connor football coach David Malesky recalled Thursday. “I still remember plays from that game.”
Malesky’s father, Gary, was in his third season as head coach at Holmes in 1980.
Three years later, Gary Malesky was in the stands at Texas Stadium on a cold December day when his son, then a senior linebacker at Judson, basked in the warm glow of the Rockets’ victory over Midland Lee in the 5A state final.
“Of all the years my dad coached at Holmes, that was the only season he didn’t make the playoffs (in the ’80s),” David Malesky said. “He got to see every one of my playoff games that year. That made everything more special for me.”
Those memories come rushing back to Malesky, 46, around this time each year.
If it’s mid-November and the temperatures have dropped, that can mean only thing to Texas high school fans: the start of the football playoffs. Texans love their high school football, but their passion reaches a fever pitch in the postseason.
“It’s a tournament and anything can happen,” Roosevelt coach Neal LaHue said.
Whether it’s in a small town or at a school in a large city, entire communities are swept up by the excitement of the playoffs. The anticipation of fans, young and old, is palpable in every corner of the state.
Steele already has moved on to second round
The playoffs began with a light schedule Thursday, but kick into high gear Friday and Saturday.
Steele, seeking its third consecutive berth in the 5A Division II state final, was among the teams getting out of the gate early, rolling to a 49-17 win over Marshall at the Alamodome. The Knights (11-0) won state in 2010 and are 39-1 in their last 40 games, with the only loss coming in last year's title game.
The University Interscholastic League playoffs culminate with 12 state championship games in six classifications – 6-man, 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A and 5A. Each class crowns champions in two divisions.
The title games begin with the 3A Division I final on Dec. 14 and end with the 5A Division I final on Dec. 22. All finals will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington except the 6-man title games, scheduled for Dec. 15 at Shotwell Stadium in Abilene.
With Thanksgiving only days away, there’s no doubt that the high school football playoffs add something special to the start of the holidays.
“It’s definitely the most exciting time of the year,” said Steve Marbach, who is in his first season as head coach at Class A Falls City, long a fixture in the playoffs. “The intensity gets ratcheted up because it’s one and done if you don’t bring your best game.
“The weather is changing and the whole community gets behind you. When you go on the road, it’s the last one out of town turn the lights out. It’s just amazing to see how Falls City gets behind its football team during the playoffs. It’s like homecoming every week.”
Marbach, a 1991 Judson graduate, was head coach at Class A Pettus for nine years before moving to Falls City.
“Pettus had gone 59 years without winning a playoff game before we broke the drought two years ago,” Marbach said. “The whole town got excited. The playoffs kind of tie everybody together.”
Harlandale back in playoffs after two-year absence
Falls City has a bye in the first round of the playoffs, but O’Connor gets down to business against Southwest in a 5A Division I matchup at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome.
The Panthers finished the regular season 8-2 and made the postseason for the 10th consecutive year, but they’ve advanced past the second round only once (2003) in school history.
“That’s been a burr in our saddle,” Malesky said. “It’s like the elephant in the room. We know it’s there, but we kind of don’t want to talk about it. Athletes are always competing against what has been done previously, and our players are no different.
“We have certain expectations this season. This is a different group of players and we feel like we can beat anybody. You have to have talent, of course, but one of the keys for success in the playoffs is to be on an upswing as you go into them because that gives you confidence.”
Harlandale is definitely on an upswing after its stirring 43-36 double-overtime victory against rival McCollum in the annual Frontier Bowl last week. The Indians (8-2) meet Victoria East (3-7) in their 4A Division I playoff opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Harlandale Memorial Stadium.
After missing the playoffs the past two seasons, Harlandale is enjoying being back in the hunt again.
“Our juniors and seniors had never been experienced this, so they’re pretty excited,” longtime Indians coach Isaac Martinez said. “After last week’s ballgame, there was even more excitement because what a way to go into the playoffs. It was a great atmosphere. As far as I was concerned, it was a playoff atmosphere.”
LaHue: 'You have to play at a high level each week'
The win over McCollum gave Harlandale a 24-23 lead in the series against the Cowboys.
“All those things get you a little more motivated for the start of the playoffs,” Martinez said. “The thing that’s great about the playoffs is that everybody starts out 0-0. But if you lose, you go home.
"There is no tomorrow. You don’t need to save anything. You just need to empty the gas tank, and leave it all out there.”
Martinez said the Harlandale community has been abuzz with talk about the Indians’ playoff game.
“We always get great support from our fans,” Martinez said. “It got so loud at last week’s game that there were three or four plays in the second half that the noise was deafening. I couldn’t talk to the coordinators who were five yards from me through the headsets. We couldn’t hear each other.”
Coaches long have said that the football season is divided into three parts: nondistrict, district and the playoffs.
“When you get to the playoffs, you have to elevate your game and play at a high level each week because it’s a single-elimination tournament,” LaHue said. “You have to be willing to keep working hard to prepare and handle the pressure.”
Roosevelt (8-2) plays New Braunfels (3-7) in the 5A Division II playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lehnhoff Stadium in Schertz.