High School Football

Wyatt-Dunbar clash will make playoff history for Fort Worth ISD schools

In a 2013 game against Dunbar, Wyatt players take the field at Clark Stadium.
In a 2013 game against Dunbar, Wyatt players take the field at Clark Stadium. Special to the Star-Telegram

Fort Worth O.D. Wyatt (5-5) and Fort Worth Dunbar (4-6) tangle Friday at Clark Stadium in a Class 5A Division II bi-district game.

It will be the first time in more than four decades — 1975 — that Fort Worth ISD football teams have met in the postseason.

Generally, Fort Worth schools teams have played football in the same UIL district since the early 1980s. In 2000, only Paschal of FWISD schools stayed in the largest-school classification.

There are plenty more storylines. One of the two head coaches — either Wyatt’s Zachary Criss or Dunbar’s Todd Lawson — will earn his first career playoff victory.

Criss, coincidentally, played high school football for his dad, Willie, at Dunbar, where the paternal Criss was a defensive coordinator before taking the head coaching job at — you guessed it — O.D. Wyatt.

Willie Criss also coached Dunbar coach Lawson and his brothers.

The ties are everywhere. But for longtime supporters of both schools, this matchup can be viewed from a different angle — one that dates back to one of the folklore games of Fort Worth Independent School District football’s better years.

“You’re opening up a big wound right there,” proclaimed Anthony Criss, Zachary’s brother and the head coach at Arlington Sam Houston. “Oh, yeah, it’s nostalgic.”

Anthony Criss was part of the 1980 matchup between Wyatt and Dunbar that took place in the final week of the regular season, with a district championship and playoff berth on the line (until 1982 only district champions advanced to the playoffs). The game finished 8-7 in favor of Wyatt, but all the members of the Criss family will tell you it should have been 7-6 Dunbar.

Before a sellout crowd at Farrington Field, the game came down to a controversial 2-point conversion in which the Wyatt quarterback was ruled to have reached the end zone, though anyone named Criss will tell you otherwise.

“I was on the field. He didn’t score,” Anthony Criss said. “That game cemented what is now a rivalry. It wasn’t a big rivalry back then, but that game made it into a rivalry.”

Further fanning the flames was the rumor that the official who made the call had a son on the football team at Richland, which would play the winner of the Wyatt-Dunbar game, and the ref believed Richland had a better chance of beating Wyatt.

“That’s the folklore,” Anthony Criss said. “They can’t find anything to substantiate it. The O.D. Wyatt kids refused to talk about it because they knew it was true.”

While only a few people know the true story, this week’s playoff meeting has ignited the passionate fans of both schools.

“They’re comparing this game to that one [in 1980], because all those other games didn’t mean anything because they were in the preseason or whatever,” he said. “But they’re saying this game is of monumental proportions.”

Meet you in the playoffs

Postseason matchups between Fort Worth ISD teams were a regular thing 40-plus years ago:

1970: Terrell 9, Western Hills 8

1971: Eastern Hills 20, North Side 19

1972: Arlington Heights 6, Wyatt 0

1973: Heights 9, Polytechnic 9 (Heights advanced on penetrations)

1974: Heights 24, Eastern Hills 6

1975: Eastern Hills 14, Southwest 3

Note: Dallas ISD teams won the next playoff game every year, except the 1973 Heights team that advanced to the state quarterfinals before losing 34-12 to a Tyler John Tyler team led by running back Earl Campbell.