When Kennedale football assistant coach Kenneth Jowers takes the field Friday night against Abilene Wylie, he’ll see a familiar face on the opposite sideline.
Fans in the Metroplex may not know the name Hugh Sandifer, but his name is among the greats in state history.
A 2004 state champion and 2012 inductee into the Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor, Sandifer is in his 38th season as a head coach, his 31st with Wylie.
Jowers graduated from Merkel High School, where he played football from 1986-89 and their biggest rival was the Wylie Bulldogs.
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Kennedale (11-3) and Abilene Wylie (12-1) meet in the Class 4A Division I state semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Birdville Fine Arts/Athletic Complex.
I think our offensive line has been the strength of our team. I know the backs get the touchdowns, the yards and the notoriety, but those six guys up front do a tremendous job of blocking and understanding the schemes that we want them to implement.
Richard Barrett, Kennedale head coach
“I’ve known him and had a lot of respect for him since that time,” Jowers said of Sandifer, who ranks 17th all-time in Texas with 277 victories. “It’s a pretty neat to have the opportunity to play against him again. We had some good battles and this one’s going to be a good battle as well.”
This time Jowers also gets to coach his son, Evan, Kennedale’s starting quarterback.
“There’s a lot of interesting history behind it. It’s nice to know there’s a rivalry between them and he gave Merkel a hard time,” Evan Jowers said. “Hopefully, we’ll do the same to them.”
The Wildcats are already making history — in the state semifinals for the first time — while the same can be said for head coach Richard Barrett.
“Thinking back about all of the teams we’ve had, and that none of them have made it this far, is kind of like ‘Whoa!’ but being in the semifinals, the final four, that’s gratifying, and it’s exciting and pleasing,” Barrett said.
“We’re certainly not satisfied and these kids want more, but it’s a great accomplishment for them and it’s a testament to their energy and sacrifice to make the team the best it can be.”
Not many thought Kennedale would still be playing.
The Wildcats were a 2-3 team on Oct. 1, but have since won nine in a row. Barrett pointed out that a 24-point loss to 2015 4A Division II champ West Orange-Stark is what turned the season around.
“After the game, we were walking off the field, pretty dejected, but [Kennedale linebacker] Baron [Browning] and I happen to be standing side by side and he said ‘Coach, from here on out, we got this,’ ” Barrett said.
Stark (14-0) is still playing in the D II bracket, against Geronimo Navarro (14-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Houston.
“As coaches we never had doubts we could make a run,” Barrett adds, “but now knowing the kids felt that way, I think that was the turning point. I guess he knew something that some other people didn’t.”
The Wildcats were down 21-7 at halftime last week against Van, but won 34-28. Sophomore running back D.J. Kirven rushed for 169 yards and five touchdowns. He has 1,917 yards and 27 touchdowns on the season. Junior running back Jaden Knowles has added 1,395 yards and 11 touchdonws.
Players and coaches are quick to credit to the offensive line for much of the team’s success. They are: Tyler Alphin, Isaiah Butler, Chris Serwanga, Andrew Flanagan, Nic Stroud and Colton Hall.
“I think our offensive line has been the strength of our team,” Barrett said. “I know the backs get the touchdowns, the yards and the notoriety, but those six guys up front do a tremendous job of blocking and understanding the schemes that we want them to implement.”
Flanagan, a junior offensive guard, has been named to the 4A All-State team the past two years.
“Our offensive line is a tight-knit group, we all play for each other,” he said.
“D.J. is a beast,” he said. “I’ve been playing with him since I was in the sixth grade. So all of us have been playing with together for a long time and the chemistry is there for sure.”