Mineola Leaves Town A Day Ahead Of Biggest Game In School History
MINEOLA -- Mineola's town square looks great, especially this time of year with the holiday lights already wrapped along the light poles.
It's not much different than any other prideful town its size this season in East Texas. Except for one detail.
You're as likely to see a sign taped to the city center's windows and door frames that reads "Go Jackets" scrawled with orange paint as a green wreath.
From searing heat and skies lit up to 9 p.m. to a humid chill and stadium lights needing to be flipped on at 5 p.m., this is how far their Yellowjackets have come.
"People that I don't even know come up to me and say, 'Hey, good game,' senior linebacker Juan Vargas said. "There are cameras rolling in through here. That's never been seen here in Mineola. I think everybody is excited about this."
Vargas caught the game-ending interception last week in a 14-7 Class 3A Division I fourth-round win against Pottsboro with less than 10 seconds to play. Pottsboro's frantic last-minute drive was 12 yards away from forcing overtime or even winning if they gambled with a two-point conversion attempt.
With the linebacker's catch, Mineola clinched a state semifinal berth for the first time in school history and drew Shallowater for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Friday at Brownwood's Gordon Wood Stadium.
Brownwood is virtually a dead even trip for both teams. Roughly 250 miles away from each town.
But part of the thrill of a semifinal meeting is venturing into the unknown.
Mineola certainly considers Shallowater a team with differing characteristics. Just check out this trip's itinerary.
Somewhere between completely confident and completely nervous, the Yellowjackets departed their hometown Thursday morning for Brownwood to take away the conceived notion Shallowater would be more comfortable playing a game shortly after getting off a five-hour bus ride.
If not for football, West Texas teams are used to venturing anywhere between El Paso, San Angelo, Lubbock, Amarillo, Abilene and Wichita Falls for basketball, track and baseball events. Mineola, conversely, can find all the competition it wants between Waskom and Dallas.
The Yellowjackets will conduct their final practice of the week and a Friday morning walk through at Early High School, the school closest to Brownwood, and rest up in a Brownwood hotel.
"I've told a few people I hope we're doing to right thing by going somewhere and spending the night," Drennon said on the eve of the trip. "But I think we are. I don't want to wake up and go on a four-and-a-half to five-hour bus ride to Brownwood and something happening to us along the way that makes us late getting there. If it's going to happen, maybe we'll get it out of the way Thursday."
At the end of the day, however, this is just Mineola's next football game. The team has studied Shallowater's film, respects what it sees and thinks it has the answers.
"Their defense, they fly around the ball," sophomore quarterback Jeremiah Crawford said. "I know they have a front four that's not as big as our linemen, but they can move very fast. If they catch you, they catch you. A lot of what I've seen on film is that when they fly around to the ball they make tackles. We've just got to figure out how to move around that."
Shallowater's defense averages just 15.5 points against per game. Its high was 35 points given up in its bi-district playoff win against Boyd.
Just like Crawford and sophomore running back Chantz Perkins for Mineola, Shallowater's ball movement is mostly conducted by running back Cooper Ogle and small but quick quarterback Bryson Blair with a strong offensive line protecting them.
Mineola's defense has more than 55 tackles for loss this season. That's near the top of the chart for any team in East Texas.
"They're not the biggest O-line we've played, but they're by far the fastest," senior defensive tackle Trevor Keener said. "We just have to use our strength and our speed to blow through them and keep that quarterback contained."
The Yellowjackets will play for the state championship against either Edna or perennial state power Cameron Yoe for the title if they can accomplish those tasks.
The town of Mineola itself is expected to follow the team's path to Brownwood on Friday.
"At the beginning people counted us out and we've mostly been the underdogs this season," Perkins said. "But since we've started to win and keep this streak alive, the town has just been alive. It used to be dead and quiet and now there's posters all over the place. I just feel the energy from everybody and that's a big boost for us."
The Yellowjackets have probably secured town intentions to keep the streamers and signs up until the wind takes them away in January.
The question is, will a new brand of sign pop up after Friday's game and then again after next week's title game to prolong this championship hunt glow?
Mineola has done a fine job of sustaining the town dream, especially the past two weeks.
Here comes the fifth test.
"They do everything right," Drennon said of Shallowater. "Most teams that you see right now are going to be disciplined on offense and play very good defense. They do that. They're not going to make mistakes. We're going to have to go beat them. They're not going to just give you something."