Friday Night Lights: Countdown of the best East Texas football games

By Phil Hicks

Although we are in the midst of the dog days of summer, football season is upon us.

The Cowboys start training camp in less than two weeks, and high school workouts begin in less than a month.

It seems we just saw the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl in the winter in New Jersey.

Before you know it, the bands will be playing, the cheerleaders cheering and the Cowboys going 8-8 again.

So to ease the stifling heat a bit with maybe thoughts of cooler weather, here is a look at high school football history.

In the fall 2013, we solicited folks' opinions on the best high school football playoff games involving East Texas teams. The response was overwhelming.

Here are our choices of the best East Texas high school football playoff games — ever. If you would like to nominate others, please send to and we will update the list again in November.

Hopefully, this will take your mind off the heat and bring thoughts of a cool crisp breeze of autumn.



John Tyler vs. Plano East: Nov. 26, 1994, Texas Stadium, Irving

With about four minutes to play, it appeared the game hardly would be memorable. But when the clock showed 0, the Class 5A playoff game had become an instant classic.

JT led 41-17 with 3:03 remaining.

As former Tyler Morning Telegraph sports writer Paul Stone wrote: "In sports writer's terminology, that's dash, 30, dash. As in game's over, turn out the lights, the fat lady's singing, hasta la vista, crank up the bus, we're doing to Disneyland … well, you get the picture."

But three — yes three — onside kick recoveries in less than two minutes and four touchdown passes lifted Plano East to a 44-41 lead with only 24 seconds remaining. It was about to be one of the best comebacks in Texas High School football history.

As Plano East kicked the ball deep, John Tyler stood on the threshold of defeat.

But like a fairy tale, JT's Roderick Dunn returned the kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and an improbable 48-44 win.

Adding to the lore of the game was the folksy, colorful and highly partisan commentary by Eddy Clinton and Denny Garver, accompanied by guest color analyst Mike Zoffuto (head coach of Richardson Lake Highlands who was scouting the game).

When Plano East took the lead, Garver jubilantly proclaimed it "the greatest comeback of all time," and then during JT's go-ahead return, Zoffuto repeatedly screamed, "Oh, no!" and then "I don't believe it. God bless those kids. I am sick. I want to throw up."

Their commentary included many memorable phrases: "Bingo bango bongo," "Good gosh almighty Joe Friday," "Break out the Oreos, baby," and "I done wet my britches!"

It was one of the wildest, wackiest finishes in state playoff history and won the 1995 Espy Award for Showstopper of the Year.

The next week, JT coach Allen Wilson and his Lions defeated Zoffuto and his Lake Highlands team.

Cujo went on to defeat Austin Westlake and win the state title.



Chapel Hill vs. Henderson: Dec. 10, 2010, Cowboys Stadium, Irving

Henderson and Chapel Hill collided in the Highway 64 matchup for the 3A state title.

What makes the championship memorable were the many dramatic storylines going into the game.

Henderson quarterback Del Barnes was fighting through an injury on his non-throwing hand and playing in a bulky cast.

Henderson defensive coordinator Ken Little had just shaved his head to prepare for cancer treatment, (Coach Little died from cancer in January 2012.)

– Henderson head coach Dickey Meeks had guided Chapel Hill to its Class 4A state title in 1989.

After it was over, Henderson had claimed its first state title in a 28-21 thriller.

Barnes, now a cornerback at Cornell University, earned Most Valuable Player honors.

"It's great; it's inexplicable," Barnes said after the game. "I can't explain my feelings right now. I'm proud of my team."

The following year, Chapel Hill rebounded with a 15-0 record to earn a second state title.



Palestine vs. Wichita Falls Hirschi: Dec. 12, 1964, Arlington

Palestine fell behind 23-0 in this 3A semifinal game. With their hopes fading fast, the team began to rally behind its star quarterback, Bill Bradley, who went on to star in the National Football League, and receiver Curtis Fitzgerald, who had suffered a broken arm.

Palestine finally got on the scoreboard with 2:22 remaining in the third. After stopping Wichita Falls Hirschi, Bradley hit Fitzgerald for 52 yards to spark a touchdown drive and close within seven points. The defense held Wichita Falls Hirschi to a three-and-out and the offense quickly scored again.

Palestine went for two but failed to convert. After the onside kick failed, Hirschi marched into Palestine territory. Faced with a fourth-and-1 at the 46, the Wichita Falls team failed to make the first down and turned over the ball.

Palestine then moved the ball to the 3-yard line with 12 seconds to play.

On the last play, the fleet-footed Bradley, who was nicknamed Super Bill and later was a standout at Texas, lofted a pass to Fitzgerald in the end zone. Some six players went for the ball and landed in a heap. When officials peeled off the players, Fitzgerald was on the bottom with the ball.

Touchdown! Palestine wins 28-23.

The next week, Palestine defeated San Marcos for the state title.



Kilgore vs. Dallas Lincoln, Dec. 18, 2004, Baylor's Floyd Casey Stadium, Waco

The Kilgore Bulldogs claimed their first state title in 4A Division II in a wild finish.

With 2:14 left in regulation play, Kilgore nailed a 39-yard field goal to tie the game, 20-20, and send it into overtime. The teams traded scores in the first overtime.

In double-overtime, Dallas Lincoln lined up for what would be the winning 42-yard field goal. That's when the momentum turned in the opposite direction.


Kilgore defensive back Nick Sanders blocked the attempt, scooped up the ball and darted 67 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

"That was unbelievable, I never thought I could do something like that," Sanders said during postgame revelry. "I just got a good jump on the ball and blocked it and took it to the house."

The finish ranks as one of the most dramatic ever as Kilgore wins 33-27.

"That was a storybook ending," Kilgore head coach Mike Vallery said.

Kilgore's undefeated season was part of perhaps the greatest year ever for East Texas football. Also winning state titles that year were Robert E. Lee and Gilmer. Troup was a state runner-up.



Here are even more big-stakes games that featured thrilling performances and often last-second heroics to secure a win.

1930 state championship: Tyler 25, Amarillo 13 (first team from East Texas to win a state title)

1937 state championship: Longview 19, Wichita Falls 12

1964 Class B regional championship: Hawkins 19, Carlisle 14

1967 Class B regional championship: Hawkins 14, Aledo 7

1973 Class 4A regional game: John Tyler 10, Conroe 7

1974 Class 1A state championship: Grapeland 19, Aledo 18

1979 Class 4A bi-district game: Plano 13, John Tyler 13 (Plano advanced on first downs 19-18 after the teams were tied in penetrations)

1997 Six-Man regional: Trinidad 94, Strawn 80

2000 Class 5A Division II quarterfinal: John Tyler 28, Waco 21

2001 Class 5A Division II semifinal: Lufkin 27, Euless Trinity 23

2002 Class 3A Division II area: Daingerfield 21, Celina 20

2003 Class 5A Division I quarterfinal: The Woodlands 50, Tyler Lee 48

2004 Class 3A Division I state championship: Gilmer 49, Jasper 47

2004 Class 5A Division I state championship: Tyler Lee 28, Spring Westfield 21

2011 Class 4A Division I regional: John Tyler 42, Highland Park 39

2012 Class 4A Division I state semifinal: Denton Guyer 57, John Tyler 53


Shane Stark contributed to this story. A portion of this story appeared in the November/December edition of our In Magazine.


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Sports Editor

I am a native Tylerite and I grew up reading the Tyler Morning Telegraph and The Tyler Courier-Times. My parents took both the morning and afternoon papers. I came to work here 35 years ago at the age of 23, right after college.