When the Southlake Carroll and Euless Trinity football teams met Oct. 6 at Pennington Field, each was searching for an identity.
They played two different games that night. Carroll dominated the first half and led 17-0. Trinity dominated the second half. The Trojans outscored the Dragons, 21-3, in the second half and pulled out a 21-20 upset.
The collapse and the rally did the same thing for each program. It provided the motivation to play the season with passion, uphold their respective traditions and restore their standard of excellence.
“It’s about having the right mentality and maintaining our focus,” Trinity senior defensive end Travis Chapman said. “Leaders have stepped up. That’s what it’s about.”
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It’s quarterfinals weekend in the state football playoffs. District 5-6A’s best are still playing. Trinity is on a 10-game winning streak. Carroll has won seven of its last eight.
I have a couple of buddies who were asking me earlier in the year if we were even going to make the playoffs or exit in the first round. That was so much motivation for me. They don’t know what Carroll is all about. My senior class wanted to bring this back.
Carroll senior left tackle Jackson Kimble
The Dragons (10-3) meet No. 5 Waco Midway (13-0) in the Class 6A Division II Region I championship at 6 p.m. Saturday at Baylor University’s McLane Stadium in Waco.
Trinity (11-2) faces No. 1 Allen (13-0) in the Class 6A Division I Region championship at 1 p.m. Saturday at UNT’s Apogee Stadium in Denton.
For years, these programs have been accustomed to practicing on Thanksgiving and playing well into December. They have combined 11 state titles. In the previous two seasons, they had had not even reached that holiday. Carroll was out by the area round. Trinity suffered bi-district exits.
“I have a couple of buddies who were asking me earlier in the year if we were even going to make the playoffs or exit in the first round,” Carroll senior left tackle Jackson Kimble said. “That was so much motivation for me. They don’t know what Carroll is all about. My senior class wanted to bring this back.”
Practicing ... halftime?
The Dragons and Trojans stumbled to start 2017. Carroll’s problem stemmed from its inability to close games, much less put a complete one together. They were 2-1. In all three losses this year, to Arlington Martin, Trinity and Lewisville Hebron, the Dragons had the lead at the half. In other games they won, they made things interesting for the wrong reasons.
As bizarre as its sounds, head coach Hal Wasson and his staff decided to put their team through a drill where they practiced halftime.
They broke it into five-minute segments where players got a breather followed by chalk talk, finishing up by going through form tackling drills. This began the week of the playoff opener against McKinney. The rationale was to keep players mentally sharp for the second half.
Something is working, at least. The Dragons shut out McKinney 42-0, outscored DeSoto in the second half, 13-8, to win 33-15 and outscored Arlington in the second half, 14-10, to win 28-24.
“We had been trying to actively get them to play with purpose and talked about it for weeks,” Wasson said. “Something just wasn’t clicking. So we thought, let’s practice halftime. Our expectations are simply to be the best we can be.”
Trinity’s signature physical style didn’t show up in the early going. Sobering 38-7 and 31-14 losses to Tulsa Union and Colleyville Heritage put the program on red alert.
Head coach Chris Jensen didn’t panic. He kept everything simple: Do your job, protect the football, don’t commit mindless penalties and handle adversity.
The Trojans navigated adversity in all three playoff games.
Trinity outscored Midland Lee, 21-6, in the second half to win 34-23. Some teams can stay with Trinity for two quarters. Few teams can stay with Trinity for four.
“Everybody talks about it,” Jensen said. “When you live it and see it work, the kids were sold. We proved to ourselves that a smart team is hard to beat.”
‘Victim of your success’
These runs speak to each program’s standard. It doesn’t mean each is destined to win state championships Dec. 23. Seasons could end Saturday.
However, when their names come up in offseason conversations, there’s a good chance that the topic of lacking in postseason success won’t come up.
“Sometimes, you’re a victim of your success,” Wasson said. “That’s not a negative. That’s a positive. Both us and Trinity have been fortunate to have enjoyed great success over a long period of time. That’s hard to do.”