Friday Night Lights.
And Wednesday night. And Thursday night. And Saturday night.
It is Texas, so you know they have to go big.
Big, big, when it comes to the Texas High School Football State Championships.
The games are played at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. Twelve games. Three a day for four straight days.
AT&T seats 90,000 people. Plenty of good seats were still available. Even in Texas, it’s tough to fill that many seats for a prep game. Still, there were some 30,000 people at Friday night’s 5A Division I game between Dallas Highland Park High and Manvel High.
From what I understand, that’s more than some NFL teams get at their games.
I walked into Jerry World late in the first quarter, just as Highland Park High quarterback John Stephen Jones (Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ grandson) unleashed a 73-yard touchdown pass. Manvel High came right back with a 69-yard touchdown off a screen pass. A 78-yard touchdown pass followed. And this was just in the first half.
Crowd roars reverberated with each play.
Even from an end zone view, it was striking how big the players for both teams looked on the field. These guys looked as big as some college teams. And very athletic.
Turns out I stumbled into one of the greatest high school games ever played here.
This was almost a home game for Highland Park, which is 18 miles from Arlington. So the fan support was understandable.
The showing for Manvel was even more impressive, considering the school is 248 miles away.
Both schools featured high-powered offenses averaging more than 45 points a game. Highland Park was bidding for its second straight state title and fifth overall. This was Manvel’s second title appearance, the Mavericks looking for their first crown.
I know this because of the website Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. The site covers everything there is to know about prep football in the Lone Star State. It is so professionally done I expect it to be bought out by Disney any moment now.
SDSU running back Juwan Washington, who grew up about 12 miles from here, explained Texas football after a practice last week.
“They take it seriously,” Washington said. “Some places everything is shut down the day they’re going to play and everybody just comes out and watches the game.”
Earlier in the day, Kennedale High, Washington’s alma mater, played for its first state championship. Sad to report that the Wildcats fell to Carthage 49-21.
Sometimes the storybook ending is on the other sideline.
I noted that even in Texas fans make faces and go nuts when you point a camera at them. The difference here is that their mugs go up on the world’s most ginormous video board.
Also noted was that obnoxious guy who is in every crowd, just waiting to say something even when he has nothing to say. When a long pass early in the third quarter was just out of the reach of a Highland Park wide receiver, this guy stomped his feet and shouted “make a football play.”
The Scots connected on a long pass moments later before scoring on a pitch play in a game that went back and forth throughout the second half.
The crowd drowned out whatever else the guy had to say after that.
Manvel kept coming up with big plays. The 73- and 78-yard touchdown passes were followed by 62- and 95-yard touchdown passes and a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
How did Highland Park stay in the game? Because Jones passed for a Texas state championship game record 564 yards.
Are you kidding me?
The kickoff return TD put Manvel up 49-39 with 6:29 remaining. Highland Park scored with 2:06 left to cut the lead to 49-46, then recovered an onside kick. The Scots drove down the field again — crucial was a fourth-and-15 along the way — before Jones threw a 16-yard touchdown pass with 34 seconds remaining to take the lead.
The finish was something out of a movie.
Manvel moved the ball down the field for a potential game-winning score. On the game’s final play, a pass was completed to the 3-yard line, but one, then two, then three Highland Park defenders stopped the receiver one yard short of the goal line.
Highland Park 53, Manvel 49.
This was big. Big, big.