Both Mansfield High School and Lake Ridge High School are on the precipice of making history this weekend.
The football programs are two wins away from state titles, which would be a first in Mansfield school district football history. And residents in the growing city in Tarrant County are excited, with the mayor and other community leaders urging everyone to rally around the teams.
Mayor David Cook will have quite a busy weekend scrambling to make it to both games and take care of his other mayoral duties, which include the Mansfield employee banquet Friday and the Mayoral Challenge Red Kettle Campaign on Saturday. The Mansfield native said he’s proud to see the community rally for these teams and enjoy the ride.
“There’s not been a whole lot of success in the Mansfield football program over the years,” said Cook, who played cornerback for the Tigers in 1987 and 1988. “I am very happy for the city, the school district, the coaches and most of all the kids who are working so hard to make it happen.”
Luckily, they won’t face each other because Mansfield is in the 6A bracket and Lake Ridge is in the 5A bracket.
For the Mansfield Tigers, it’s the first time in the school’s long history that it’s played football into December. The team, led by Coach Jeff Hulme, struggled with a 1-2 record to start the 2015 campaign before going on an undefeated streak that carried the Tigers to the semifinal round this Saturday.
Mansfield will travel to Waco ISD Stadium where the team will face Lake Travis, which boasts five state championships.
For the Lake Ridge Eagles, the freshmen that opened the school four years ago and went 2-8 their sophomore year are undefeated in 2015 under the leadership of Coach Kirk Thor.
They’ll travel to Birdville Fine Arts/Athletics Complex on Friday to take on Aledo High School, a perennial playoff contender with six state titles.
“Both of us are facing teams that have great history with winning state championships,” Hulme said. “We’re definitely the newcomers to this final four bunch.”
Unlike their opponents, the Mansfield programs aren’t used to playing this deep into December. Only one Mansfield ISD school has made it this far before—the Timberview High School Wolves made it to the semifinal round in 2011.
But don’t be fooled.
The coaches are preaching every day to their players to focus on what they can control so they don’t get overwhelmed by the playoff pressure.
“You can’t control your opponent. You can’t control the venue. You can’t control the weather,” Thor said. “You control how you practice. You control how you act. You control your attitude. We preach that every single day.”
Just as the players and coaches enjoyed practicing through the Thanksgiving holiday, they are savoring the joy of hearing Christmas music while still playing football, Thor said.
“We’re thankful for where we are,” Thor said. “It’s been great to see the kids’ faces and excitement.”
Players and coaches are rooting hard for their fellow Mansfield teams. Nowhere was this more evident than at AT&T Stadium on Nov. 28. First, the Mansfield Tigers defeated Arlington Lamar 34-29 in front of a huge crowd. Then the Eagles trounced Mesquite Poteet 69-40 on the same field.
“We dwarfed both teams that we were playing size-wise with our crowd,” Hulme said. “There were a lot of green and black shirts. It didn’t matter if you were Lake Ridge High or Mansfield. You were there to support Mansfield.”
After the Tigers win, Thor, the former coach at Mansfield, said he was talking to the game officials trying to prepare for Lake Ridge’s game when he was constantly interrupted.
“Every 10 seconds a Mansfield coach or assistant coach came up and said ‘Good luck, Coach. Go get them, Coach!’ They were fired up. Our staff were fired up,” Thor said.
The support has been amazing as the two teams have continued their playoff runs, checking scores through social media.
For Debbie Weems, longtime athletic director for the Mansfield school district, it’s hard to even put this experience into words.
“The thrill of victory. The excitement. The adrenaline rush that you get in sports, particularly with big games,” Weems said. “Having two teams with the potential for a state championship title.”
Weems has been with Mansfield district since the 1980s and became athletic director in 1996. The district has had 11 teams make it to the final four in various sports over the years.
She credits Hulme and Thor for never compromising.
“They’re still the same guys that they were when we hired them but they stayed the course,” Weems said.
Cook said he looks forward to having a large crowd at both games to cheer on the Eagles and Tigers.
“This experience will be a lifetime memory that they will never forget and they will always treasure,” Cook said.
Lake Ridge High School (14-0, 7-0)
Opponent: Aledo High School (13-1, 7-0)
Date: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11
Location: Birdville FAAC, 9200 Mid Cities Boulevard, North Richland Hills
Mansfield High School (12-2, 6-0)
Opponent: Lake Travis (14-0, 8-0)
Date: 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12
Location: 1401 S. New Road, Waco