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September 11, 2008It's Stephenville and Brownwood, and nothing else seems to matter.
The first 0-2 start by the Yellow Jackets since 1989, Brownwood's 31-14 loss to Waco LaVega last week - go ahead and throw those out the window, along with the fact the two state powers haven't clashed on the gridiron since 2005.
The rivalry between the Jackets and Lions goes deeper than almost any in Texas high school football, especially with the schools having combined for 11 state titles and having spent many of their 67-year history as opponents in the same district. First-year Stephenville Head Coach Joseph Gillespie sees the rivalry from a unique angle, having been involved as a player, an assistant coach, and now a head coach. His perspective on what the game means to the players, schools and communities, however, is similar to that of others who are especially familiar with the two programs.
"If you ask anyone who's been around our program or their program for a long time, I think they would say they want this game on the schedule every year," Gillespie said. "It's such a great part of the football history at both schools. These are two of the best programs in the state, and anytime you can get teams like this together each year for so long, a big rivalry is going to develop. There's just so much history involved, and it's a fun week for both schools and for the kids."
On paper, Gillespie feels the teams match up very well.
Brownwood, 1-1, after knocking off Burnet and falling to LaVega, isn't as big up front as Guyer, Gillespie says, and the Lions lost a starting offensive lineman to injury during last week's loss.
The head coach said much like Stephenville, Brownwood is led by an intelligent quarterback - TCU pledge Casey Pachall - who knows his team's offense inside and out, but more importantly, reads defenses very well.
"Seeing him on film, it's clear he has the liberty to do a lot of things that you can't usually ask high school quarterbacks to do," Gillespie said.
Pachall has completed 26 of 46 (56.5-percent) passes for 283 yards and six touchdowns. Stephenville's Brad Picha has completed 34-58 (58.7-percent) for 362 yards and two scores.
The similarities don't stop there.
Brownwood running back Tyler Harth has 99 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while Stephenville's Brad Mills has 108 yards and a scoring run. Stephenville's top two receivers, Mills and Josh Graves, have combined for 179 yards through the air, while the Lions' top receivers, Shelby Miller and Parker Taylor, have combined for 187.
The 2008 teams are similar, just as the programs are similar in stature. Brownwood won seven state titles between 1960 and 1981, while Stephenville won four between 1993 and 1999.
Both have head coaches with close ties to the rivalry - Gillespie having played and coached for Stephenville, and Brownwood's Steve Freeman having come to SHS as an assistant under Art Briles before leaving to take over the Lions' program.
"It's two great programs, and it's a great rivalry," Gillespie said. "I can't think of anybody better to go out and get our first win against than Brownwood."
Gillespie is aware his team must show improvement in several areas for such a win to be a possibility on Friday, especially special teams and turnovers.
"We have to take care of the ball and we have to perform better on all of our special teams," he said. "If we do that, we're going to be fine. We still have a salty football team, and we're only a couple of plays from being 2-0 and ranked No. 3 or No. 4 in the state."
Stephenville will try to fix those "couple of plays" against the Lions at 7:30 p.m. Friday, when the Jackets look to take their 13th game from Brownwood out of the 17 played since 1990.
Both teams look to bounce back from losses, and both look to reaffirm their spots as contenders in their respective classes.
Something has to give.
In rivalry games such as this, something always does.