By TONY EIERDAM
It was the largest crowd in the history of Mineral Wells ISDs Ram Stadium, and ironically, it wasn’t a game involving Stephenville, Class 5A schools or any other 11-man teams.
In 2008, six man and Palo Pinto County rivals Strawn and Gordon faced off late in the playoffs, and there was only one venue that could be counted on to hold the two schools’ large fan bases and the curious local football fans that were anticipated to watch the contest.
Ram Stadium was in its first year, and its final game of 2008 became its most memorable when the ‘Hounds and ‘Horns squared off in that state quarterfinal contest.
The crowd – standing room only – is still talked about by local high school football coaches and fans to this day.
Today at 7 p.m. Strawn (10-2) returns to the scene as the state-ranked (six man, Division II) No. 3 Greyhounds take on No. 7 Newcastle at Ram Stadium in the state quarterfinals. The winner will advance to the state semifinals and play the winner of the Calvert/Milford quarterfinal.
The winner of the semifinals will advance to the Division II state championship game. The stakes in six man football have grown this year as the prize for qualifying for the state championship game has risen as the contest will be played at 3 p.m, Dec. 14 at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium, formerly known as Cowboys Stadium.
Strawn head coach Dewaine Lee was the Greyhounds’ head coach in 2008 – the second year the ‘Hounds won a state championship – and well remembers the atmosphere in Ram Stadium.
“When we played Gordon there in 2008 the atmosphere was incredible,” Lee said. “Ram Stadium is one of my favorite places to play as a player or a coach.
“Our players are excited to be playing there and so are our fans. I tried to get a game in there last year but it fell through. It is a great stadium and will be a great experience for our players and fans.”
However, once the excitement of playing in one of the area’s nicest venues wears off there is a football game to be played, an important football game at that.
Earlier this season Strawn defeated Newcastle, 74-54, in a matchup of Top 10 teams in non-district play. Although some would say Strawn has the upper hand since it knows it can beat Newcastle, Lee sees it a different way.
“In 2008, Gordon beat us by 30 points in district,” Lee reminded. “But we beat them by 31 (89-58) at Ram Stadium in the playoffs.
“I feel us beating Newcastle earlier in the season means nothing. We are both different teams at this point, anyway. Our earlier win over them has no impact at all on (today’s) game.”
Newcastle (9-2) is coached by its superintendent, longtime head varsity coach Ty Spitzer, who was raised in Newcastle and played for the Bobcats. Newcastle is coming off a 52-18 win over Guthrie in the regional round.
The Bobcats’ other loss this season came to No. 6 May in September. Since the Strawn loss, the Bobcats have won six straight games.
“Newcastle is a veteran bunch,” Lee said. “They are well coached and well rounded. Coach Spitzer has been there a long time.
“They have a good quarterback and good running back, and their defense is solid. There are no weaknesses, and all of their kids do their jobs well.
“They are also on a roll. That is the most important thing at this time of the year.”
The ‘Hounds will be led by the offensive threesome of quarterback Harrison Nowak and running backs Coletyn King and Ross Alison.
King has scored five touchdowns on offense in the two playoff games while rushing for 204 yards and recording 243 yards of total offense. He also scored on an interception return.
Nowak has thrown for five touchdowns and rushed for another. He has passed for 218 yards in two playoff games while rushing for 114.
Alison played sparingly in the second SHS playoff game but is expected to see more action against the Bobcats.
“Our kids do a good job each week of executing the game plan and I expect that again (today),” Lee said. “They guys need to keep taking care of the little things, and of course, blocking and tackling will be huge, and taking care of the football.”
Although the Greyhounds’ offensive trio of Nowak, King and Alison seem to get a lot of publicity, the Strawn defense may be the best of the two units.
The ‘Hounds lead Division II in points allowed in the playoffs and have allowed just 12 points in two playoff games – six in each contest.
In fact, Strawn defense has scored as many touchdowns during postseason play as it has given up.
Despite the facts, Lee said his defense will have to continue to play at a high level in order for the ‘Hounds to advance.
“This game will be all about making stops,” Lee said. “Our defense needs to step up and make some stops. Making stops is what it is all about this deep in the playoffs.”