Written by Corbett Smith
State's single-game attendance record in jeopardy this weekend
On Saturday, while Aledo running back Johnathan Gray makes a run at the season state rushing record, another state record will be on the line.
The attendance mark of 49,953 will again be under attack.
The University Interscholastic League will host all of the state football championships at a single site for the first time. Saturday’s mix of games featuring star players and area powerhouses at Cowboys Stadium might bring the necessary crowds to threaten the mark.
Former Plano coach Tom Kimbrough — whose team took part in the record-setting game in the 1977 Class 4A state championship at Texas Stadium — thinks it is in jeopardy.
“I’m surprised that this record … has held up as long as it has,” Kimbrough said.
“We were playing a single game, and the state championships now are under a different format. It’s just a matter of time before that record is broken.”
Single site success
Last season, the UIL contested all of its state football championships at a central location for the first time, hosting the Class 5A, 4A and 3A games at Cowboys Stadium, while Classes 2A and A played at Mansfield’s Vernon Newsom Stadium.
The event was a rousing success — ticket revenue for the games hit $1.37 million, with participating schools sharing nearly $700,000, and games were well-attended. The announced attendance of 43,321 for the Class 5A Division I final between Pearland and Euless Trinity was one of the top 10 largest crowds ever to see a high school football game in state history. “We felt that it would be something that the fans would come to see,” UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said in August. “It was victorious at all levels.”
This season, the UIL tweaked its format, moving all the games into Cowboys Stadium. The move necessitated playing three games on Thursday — making the championships a three-day event.
“When the opportunity arose to move them all into Cowboys Stadium, with the kind of facility that it is, we felt that especially being able to take the elements out of the game, and have them indoors in a controlled environment … it just seemed like an opportunity that needed to be taken advantage of, to see how it works,” UIL athletic director Mark Cousins said.
In 2010, with area schools Denton Guyer and Euless Trinity playing back-to-back for the 5A titles on the final day, it looked as if the attendance record might get broken. It didn’t happen, despite more than 100,000 fans attending the tripleheader.
Perfect storm in 1977
To get the record, it will likely either take a monumental matchup between two powerhouses — like Katy and Allen — or an area team that builds a bandwagon with a tremendous run through the playoffs.
Both were the case for Kimbrough’s Plano team, which set the record on Dec. 17, 1977 in a 13-10 win over Port Neches-Groves.
Port Neches-Groves, the 1975 4A champs, entered the game undefeated, winners of 41 of its last 43 games. Plano — the lone high school in the city at the time — had two dramatic wins leading up to the final, beating Odessa Permian in the semis, 3-0, and coming back from a 28-point deficit to beat Highland Park in the quarterfinals, 29-28.
Forney coach Kevin Rush, a tight end and middle linebacker on Plano’s team, said the atmosphere for the final — with fans in the upper deck of Texas Stadium — was unforgettable.
“When we were coming down the tunnel there at Texas Stadium, it just seemed like it got louder, and louder, and louder …” Rush said. “Everybody was yelling and screaming. It was a phenomenal experience.”
Dragons and star RBs
In many ways, Southlake Carroll has mimicked Plano’s run. In a loaded Region I, Carroll wasn’t the odds-on favorite. And yet, with a few comebacks under its belt, Carroll is still standing. In the semifinals, Carroll rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes, scoring twice to beat Skyline, 28-24. Carroll athletic director Kevin Ozee said he expects a large crowd of Southlake fans. In the Skyline game, more than 10,000 Carroll fans were in attendance at SMU’s Ford Stadium, most of them a walk-up crowd.
“Cowboys Stadium is the best stadium in the world,” Ozee said. “So anytime we get to play there is an honor. For our kids, it’s pretty special.”
The 5A Division I game between Carroll and Fort Bend Hightower at 4 p.m. is sandwiched between two of the biggest names in high school football this season — Gray and Spring Dekaney running back Trey Williams.
Playing for the two-time defending state champs, Gray is 396 yards away from eclipsing Ken Hall’s 59-year-old single-season state rushing record of 4,045 yards. Gray rushed for 325 yards and eight touchdowns in last season’s 4A Division II final. The Texas pledge is also a touchdown shy of a new national record for TDs in a career; with 69 scores this season, Gray is tied with former Indianapolis Colt and Michigan running back Mike Hart with 204 touchdowns.
Williams has rushed for 3,687 yards this season, most ever in a single season in the state’s highest classification. The Texas A&M pledge is 125 yards away from becoming Class 5A’s all-time career rusher, passing former Texas and Midland Lee running back Cedric Benson’s career mark of 8,418 yards.
Cousins said that breaking the attendance mark isn’t a primary concern of the weekend, but if the records come, so be it.
“We’re trying to create an atmosphere where our schools feel like they have a fair and competitive opportunity to play for a championship in probably the premier football facility anywhere … a championship atmosphere with as many people as we can get in there,” Cousins said. “The attendance figures … that’s something that’s not really on our radar right now.”
Although attendance isn’t an official statistic kept by the UIL, the 4A championship game in 1977 between Plano and Port Neches-Groves is considered the largest crowd for a high school football game in Texas history. Here’s a list of some of the state’s largest high school crowds:
Plano vs. Port Neches-Groves*
Highland Park vs. Waco*
Southlake Carroll vs. Euless Trinity
Hou. Washington vs. Galveston Ball
Euless Trinity vs. Pearland
Katy vs. Pearland*
Bryan Adams vs. Richardson
* championship game
Sources: The Dallas Morning News archives, Houston Chronicle