Written by Michael Florek
Why Allen's 2012 state title-game appearance could be the start of something special for team, community
Heading into the football season, Allen athletic director Steve Williams was concerned. He watched spring practice, and in a season that would begin with the opening of Allen’s new $59.6 million stadium, he saw a team not “anywhere near the most talented” the school has had.
“If you would have told me back then that we’d be playing for a state championship in December, I would have thought that hard to accomplish,” Williams said. “We didn’t move the ball very well on offense.”
Then Allen blew out defending state champion Southlake Carroll, 24-0, in the inaugural game at the new stadium and advanced past the area round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Allen sits one game away from a state title as it faces Houston Lamar in the 5A Division I championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday. The game will end an impressive season, and may be the start of something special for the team and community.
“It sets the tone,” Williams said of what this season does for future teams. “Our kids, to their credit, I think they were tired of going home after the second round.”
With the help of sophomore quarterback Kyler Murray, the offense averaged more than 44 points per game despite starting running back Jeff Harris suffering a torn ACL.
Murray transferred from Lewisville at the start of the season. He spent the first five games backing up Oliver Pierce and seeing spot duty before taking the reins full time.
“He’s an awesome, awesome kid,” Pierce said of Murray. “Me and him are best buds. It kind of worked out for the best, me going to receiver.”
Allen coach Tom Westerberg said Murray was pressing a little knowing he would have limited snaps. The switch allowed Murray to settle down and got him and Pierce on the field at the same time.
“When we decided to make the switch and put Kyler in there, we just continued to get better,” Westerberg said. “He kind of took to it, and the kids kind of took to him and everything jelled together.”
Aside from a comfortable Murray for two more years, Allen’s defense, widely regarded as one of the best in the area, will return eight of 22 players who regularly play. That includes linebackers Christian Sam and Tay Evans, likely FBS recruits, according to defensive coordinator Cory Cain.
“As a coach, you’re always excited when you have a bunch of juniors playing,” Cain said. “You have a couple sophomores that came up and helped us during the year, so you’re always excited about that.”
But Cain and Williams know it’s not that simple. Every year is different. A bit of luck and a dodging of the injury bug is required.
There’s also something intangible needed. Coaches and players can’t explain why, but all agree this team has a togetherness that other Allen teams haven’t had.
“The 2008 team was just like this one,” Westerberg said. “Why every group isn’t that way, I don’t know.”
Offensive lineman John Clark said this year’s team needed something else: a loss. Allen’s loss to Coppell in overtime lingered through an entire bye week, waking the team up.
“You saw the emotions just change,” said offensive lineman Brad North. “We were still having fun out there, but it went from just being, ‘Oh this is a football game’ to like, ‘This is our way of life. We need to change up our way of life.’”
Murray took an offense that was already good to another level. In his first game as the full-time quarterback, Allen beat Plano East, 56-0, igniting a 10-game winning streak. Clark said the offense finally realized what it could do.
Pierce said it sent the message: Allen was still coming.
Can those moments be duplicated? With all the external pieces seemingly in place, can the togetherness be replicated? Westerberg isn’t sure. He’s a bit busy at the moment.
“Who knows how it all plays out?” Westerberg said of the future. “I’m worried about Saturday night.”
Him and a lot of other people.
Follow Michael Florek on Twitter at @michaelflorek