- Jeff Miller
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ALLEN, Texas -- Thanks to a curious biennial ritual, Saturday afternoon's Region I football championship game in Texas' Class 5A Division I playoffs between Trinity (Euless), which is 13-0 and ranked first in ESPN RISE's FAB 50, and Allen (12-1, ranked 19th) will be a rematch of a mid-September heavyweight battle.
Football coaches from high schools throughout North Texas gather at the Birdville ISD Fine Arts/Athletics Center just northeast of Fort Worth as part of the announcement of the University Interscholastic League's realignment every other February. That puts into motion coaches seeking to fill the nondistrict portions of their schedules.
It looks like a cross between the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and an Easter egg hunt. And that's how Allen's Tom Westerberg and Trinity's Steve Lineweaver learned nine months ago that each was having a hard time lining up an opponent for Week 3.
Making such a date isn't always easy when the other party fears a drubbing. Westerberg even had to pencil in a school from Mexico for Allen's second game to avoid being stuck with a nine-game regular season.
"We were kind of in the same boat," Westerberg said. And when he asked Lineweaver if he'd like to bring the defending Division I champ to Allen Eagle Stadium, Lineweaver replied with a resounding, "Sure."
Trinity's 24-14 victory on Sept. 19 is the only blemish on Allen's record this season. The Eagles recovered to plow through the rugged lineup of District 8-5A. That was highlighted by a 56-23 triumph at Plano in mid-October and a 31-28 victory over Wylie to close the regular season and clinch the district championship. (Plano lost to Trinity in the playoffs on a last-minute touchdown, and Wylie will be playing this weekend for the 5A region I title in Division II.)
Allen finished the regular season as the highest-ranked 5A team with a loss, behind Trinity, Galena Park North Shore, Abilene and Odessa Permian. Allen held off a late Permian charge on Friday night for a 28-22 victory that leaves only Trinity and Allen still alive from that group -- and headed for another showdown, at Texas Stadium.
"With this group, they're excited because of the outcome of the first game," Westerberg said. "We didn't quite play our best game."
In the schools' first meeting, Trinity relied on its relentless running game. The Trojans rushed 51 times and threw only nine passes. Sophomore running back Tevin Williams carried 30 times for 179 yards.
Trinity senior quarterback Denarius McGhee threw for more than 300 yards for the first time all season two weeks ago in the 42-35 win over Plano. In Trinity's 48-14 breather over Arlington this past Saturday, he attempted only 13 passes in a game that was decided in the second quarter.
Allen received 199 yards passing and two touchdowns against Permian from backup quarterback Tucker Carter. He was called upon to make his first start after starter Matt Brown was sidelined with a collarbone injury suffered the previous week.
Carter, a junior like Brown, is used to taking a knee in the closing seconds of Allen victories. But this time, he took the final snap, faced the delirious Eagles fans occupying Texas Stadium's east stands, held the ball and spread his arms to soak in the moment.
"I prepared myself all week for this situation," said Carter, whose father is an Allen assistant coach. "If someone goes down, we know we have to step in and play."
Brown said after the game that he was told he'd be out four to six weeks, yet he still dressed out and gave it a go in warm-ups before resigning himself to the sideline.
"But that kid," Brown said, nodding toward Carter, "we're in good hands with him. I'm really glad he was here. He's like my brother."
Carter's second TD pass came with 5:12 to play in the third quarter, increasing Allen's lead to 28-10. Receiver Bradlee Waddell was alone at Permian's 20-yard line, waiting for the pass that completed the 40-yard score.
Brown occasionally peeked to see which plays were being sent in and almost got the giggles when that play was called.
"This is going to happen, and this is going to happen, and we're going to score. And it happened," Brown said.
Brown has thrown for 1,973 yards and 27 touchdowns and is also Allen's leading rusher with 1,125 yards and another 13 TDs.
"Matt used to be a running back," Westerberg said. "That's not part of the offense that Tucker can run, to take off and run."
Senior running back Jeremiah Williams, who earned his starting spot in 2006 as a sophomore stepping in for an injured starter, ran for 70 yards against Permian to give him 954 for the season. And the Eagles' defense had its say, holding down a Permian offense that came in averaging 44 points.
"We have great coaches, and they always prepare us," senior defensive back Steven Terrell said. "I just don't believe that they'd played a defense like ours."
Westerberg took the Allen coaching job in 2000 after serving on Joe Martin's staff at Garland, which won the 5A Division II championship in 1999. Westerberg said the most lasting benefit from that experience was learning to handle the 16-game marathon that a championship team must endure.
"That's as long as an NFL schedule," Westerberg said, "but there's a difference in focusing on one game at the time [during the playoffs]. You can't look ahead."
That shouldn't be an issue this Saturday.
Jeff Miller is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
12hTristan H. Cockcroft