As hard as it may be to believe now, there was a time when Smithson Valley High School lost a lot more often than it won on the football field.
"It was so bad that you could get here at 7:15 for a 7:30 game and park right outside the stadium," a longtime member of the chain gang at Ranger Stadium said last year.
While that may be an exaggeration, the point was well taken.
Nowadays, if you don't get to a Smithson Valley home game at least 90 minutes before kickoff, you can count on walking a while after you park.
Since 1994, when it made the playoffs for the first time in school history, Smithson Valley has been one of the state's most consistent winners under Coach Larry Hill.
Since finishing 1-9 in 1993, Hill's first season at the helm, the Rangers have gone 197-44 and advanced to the postseason 16 times in the past 18 years.
Now in his 20th season at Smithson Valley, Hill is 198-53 and in the midst of another promising season.
Smithson Valley, 6-0 overall and 1-0 in District 25-5A, plays Judson (4-2, 1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Rutledge Stadium.
Judson, Smithson Valley models of consistency
The Rockets have won four in a row after losing their first two games under first-year coach Mark Smith. Five-time defending state champion Lake Travis beat Judson 47-13 in their season opener, and Steele hung on for a 42-35 victory against the Rockets the following week.
"They're still Judson," Hill said Thursday. "Mark has done a great job. He had an outstanding program at Kerrville Tivy and his record stands on its own. They're doing things a little bit differently over there now, but they're still going to play with passion and play hard. That hasn't left.
"That's how Mark's teams played at Kerrville. That part was an easy transition. Anytime you come in and put in a new system, it's not going to get done overnight. They played some tough teams in the first two games, but Lake Travis and Steele have made a lot of people look bad. They have gained their footing and adjusted well."
Friday night's game features two programs that have been the class of high school football in the San Antonio area since they began their respective runs of success.
"It should be a great atmosphere," Hill said. "We love tradition and our kids embrace it. Judson's the same way."
Like Judson, Smithson Valley is synonymous with consistency.
"We want to be thought of as a program that's near the top every year," Hill said. "Talent comes and goes, but we have tried to build a program that sustained itself. We're proud of the fact that we've been able to do that."
Judson has missed playoffs only three times in past 30 seasons
As different as Judson and Smithson Valley are in some respects, Smith said their football programs are cut from the same cloth.
"The biggest thing about Smithson Valley, year in and year out, is their consistency and the matter in which they play and the manner they're coached," Smith said. "They don't change. Smithson Valley and Judson mirror each other. They play hard and they play with confidence. They don't beat themselves.
"When you look at great football teams and great coaches, they're always looking for ways to get better. You can see Larry has made changes to his offense, changed schematics, but the basic philosophy of the program has remained the same."
Although Judson is in transition, the expectations remain high for the Rockets. Given their rich tradition, that's a given.
Judson has won six state championships, including one by forfeit, and made the playoffs 27 times in the previous 30 seasons.
The Rockets have gone 327-71 since advancing to the state semifinals for the first time in 1982. They won their first state championship the following year, starting an unprecedented run of dominance in Greater San Antonio history.
For all of Judson's success, Smithson Valley leads the series with the Rockets 5-1.
Still, the Rangers have yet to win a state crown during Hill's tenure, although they have come excruciatingly close in two of the three state finals they've played in.
Two of area's best running backs headline matchup
Denton Ryan beat Smithson Valley 42-35 in overtime in the 2001 4A Division I title game, and Southlake Carroll kicked a field goal on the final play to edge the Rangers 27-24 in the 2004 5A Division II final.
This year's Smithson Valley team beat Brandeis (41-7), Laredo United (38-14), El Paso Montwood (51-29), Madison (49-24) and Corpus Christi King (44-6) before rolling to a 35-7 win over San Marcos in its district opener.
"I hope we're getting better," Hill said. "Every coach wants his team to improve as the season goes on. This group is real focused and has been very committed. The players take pride in their work ethic.
Friday night's game also will feature two of the best running backs in the San Antonio area, Smithson Valley senior Lawrence Mattison and Judson senior Jarveon Williams.
Mattison has run for 761 yards on 102 carries and leads 5A rushers with 15 touchdowns. An all-district safety last year, Williams moved to running back at the start of preseason workouts and has rushed for 1,102 and 13 TDs. He is averaging 10.8 yards per carry.
Hill has been impressed with the way Mattison, a three-year varsity player, has progressed each season.
"His understanding of the game has improved," Hill said. "He understands the blocking patterns and where the hole should be. He's become a more complete football player, not just the guy who runs the ball."