In early August, the Mustangs began preparing for a season that had been predicted to end up in “Jerry’s World” in late December. After two scrimmages, the team felt that they were ready for their first game against the Little Cypress-Mauriceville Bears.
On Thursday before the Mustangs were to face LC-M in the Orange Bowl, sophomore Jack Dallas was given the news. He would be the starting quarterback. Not just for the LC-M game, but for the season.
Dallas, who wasn’t even old enough to drive would be the leader of this team, driving them down the field on offense for every game. And that is exactly what he did for 16 weeks. And on his 16th birthday a little before 9 am, Dallas boarded a bus with all of his team mates to play in the ultimate contest in Arlington, the UIL State Championship game against the undefeated Gilmer Buckeyes.
Led by the sirens and flashing lights of police cars and fire engines from the Cities of Orange, West Orange and Pinehurst, the two buses made their way through Orange, by the WO-S Middle School and Elementary School before heading out for the big game.
After arriving at their destination, the team went through their normal Thursday practice at an indoor practice facility in Kennedale before supper and a chance to experience Cowboy Stadium before their own actual game. For the Mustangs, things were business as usual. No bells and whistles, just a bunch of “blue-collared folks” preparing for their big day.
The team was escorted in to the underground parking Friday morning where they unloaded the buses and began getting ready for the big game-the one that they had been waiting for, the one that many doubted early in the season that they would play in because of the adversity that the team faced.
But here were 40 players, give or take one or two, who never gave up, who were about to live out their dream.
The game started right at noon and from the first second ticked off of the clock, WO-S was poised and in control. Dallas was the first to hit pay dirt, running the ball in from 12 yards out to score. Kicker Hector Vela’s PAT was good and the Mustangs led, 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter, the Mustangs hit the end zone three more times. Receiver Jeron Preston caught a 13 yard Dallas pass to put the Mustangs up, 13-0. Only minutes later, Deionte’ Thompson snatched an 18 yard pass from Dallas. Twenty points up and Gilmer finally got on the board.
It didn’t take WO-S much time to march down the field again and this time, running back Trey Baldwin barreled across the goal line to up the margin to 25-7. Gilmer moved the ball down the field and with only seconds before the half, attempted a field goal. The ball fell short into the end zone and Thompson fielded the ball and took off up the sideline, 101 yards but his run was called back for a questionable block in the back.
And that was the last time the Mustangs would see the end zone during the game. Gilmer was able to stage a 28 point comeback in the second half and win the game, 35-25.
“I am so proud of our team and what we accomplished this year,” Head Coach Cornel Thompson said. “We never gave up, we just gave out.”
It was the last game for 18 seniors but those 18 will never forget this season or the things that they learned from playing in the blue and silver.
“I’m really proud of our seniors,” Thompson said. “These guys were freshmen when I got the head coach job and I have watched them become young men. They have great leadership skills and will definitely be missed.”
The Buckeyes, who were crowned state champs after the game, had an extra reason to try to win the title. In March, standout junior receiver Desmond Pollard died while playing a basketball game with friends. The Gilmer football team dedicated their season to Pollard and even visited his grave as a team before the championship game.
Several Mustang players finished the season setting records-Dallas set the record with 31 single season touchdown passes surpassing Eric Anderson who had 29. He also set the record for single season passing yards at 2353, topping last years’ Dillon Sterling-Cole, who finished with 2309. Will Johnson and Deionte Thompson tied with four passing touchdowns in a game and both Johnson and Thompson tied for most career receptions with 91, passing up J’marcus Rhodes, who had 89.
Mustang fans also set a record, or at least it sure appears that they did as they followed and cheered on WO-S week after week. Every week the crowd grew and the Mustang side of the state game was incredible.
“I would like to thank our fans, our administration and our parents for all of the support that they gave to the team during the season,” Thompson said. “The kids knew that the fans were there every game. Although we fell short of our goal to win it all, the kids will look back and realize that we made some great memories as we fought through adversity and won.”
Out of 7000 high school teams in the state of Texas, WO-S can proudly say that they were one of 12 who played in the final game of the season in Jerry’s World.
Congratulations Mustangs!! This writer couldn’t be more proud of you and all that you accomplished.
Photo – Running from the wildcat, Will Johnson stretches for the score. Although the referee called him down at the one yard line, Trey Baldwin scored on the next play to put the Mustangs up, 21-0.
Photo by Meri Elen Jacobs-