By CLINT FOSTER
As far as rivalries go in Palo Pinto County, it just doesn’t get much bigger than Gordon and Strawn.
Sure, there are other big local rivalries – Santo and Perrin-Whitt come to mind – but based on proximity, importance and sheer competitiveness, nothing comes close to when the Longhorns and Greyhounds meet annually to do battle on the gridiron.
Last year, it was the Gordon Longhorns who walked away victorious, 36-34. Now tonight, with another year passed, the black and gold will look to overcome their youth and slow start (1-2) to notch a third-straight win against Strawn (3-1) at 7:30 p.m. in Greyhound Stadium. It is the latest chapter in a series that has been nothing short of epic.
Although it is true that the Longhorns have a sub-.500 record after the first four weeks of the season, it’s not exactly something they can be faulted for. Two of Gordon’s first three games were against defending state champions – Dallas The Covenant, who won the DI-2 6M TAPPS State Championship with a 13-1 record, and Stephenville Faith, who won the DII-1 6M TCAL State Championship at 12-0 – and the ‘Horns lone win came against Faith in a 50-6 beatdown.
But tough non-district schedules aside, head coach Joe Kostiha said Gordon’s biggest obstacle this season has been its youth. Going into this year, the ‘Horns only had two players – Brandon Gonzales and Jacob Wigington – that had ever played in a varsity football game.
“Early in the year, we went through some growing pains and its tough when you play such good competition,” Kostiha said. “It’s just kind of tough with such young guys. You’d like to get some games under their belt before you start facing all this tough competition. But it’s good for us too; it’s a good test for us. We’ve gotten better.”
The biggest help to this Gordon team in need of more experience was their bye week which fell last week before the ever-important road test against Strawn. Kostiha said the bye week went very well for his team as it presented some much-needed time for extra work.
“We’ve had to focus on us during the bye week; we don’t focus on anyone else,” he said.
The bye week also allowed Dylan Burch – one of the Longhorns’ few seniors who led the team in rushing in their last game – to get back up to full speed after leaving the Blanket game with an ankle injury. Kostiha said Burch’s MRI results came back negative, so he is hopeful his running back will be able to help his team against Strawn.
Kostiha said he will look to his veteran leaders in Gonzales and Wigington to key the ‘Horns to any possible victory against the ‘Hounds.
“They’ve been in Gordon-Strawn games, they won a Gordon-Strawn game last year,” Kostiha said. “Those two guys have been on this stage before ... We need their leadership.”
As for game-planning for Strawn, Kostiha said the Greyhounds present a great team from top to bottom. He pointed to Harrison Novak as one of Strawn’s best weapons.
“They have a lot of good players, but Harrison Novak is a pretty good kid and he’s someone we’ve really got to focus in on and stop,” he said. “But they’ve got a lineup full of guys that are tough. They’ve got athletes everywhere.”
Anybody between Grant Avenue in Strawn and Main Street in Gordon will tell you tonight is a big game. But don’t tell that to Kostiha. In classic head-coach-fashion, he down played the rivalry aspect of the game. He seems to view them as just another tough opponent that the ‘Horns will have to conquer if they want to continue to improve.
“I don’t think so much about a rival, but it’s big when you play a really good opponent,” he said..
Coach Kostiha is right not to overhype his team and he can tell his ‘Horns whatever he wants. But let’s face it, when it comes to six-man football in Texas, this is the one to watch year after year.