Arp is Riding High After Big Third-Round Win + Going Into Showdown With Newton
It was one of those moments every coach loves to be a part of: seeing his team win on a last-second play.
Or, in Arp's case, with no time on the clock at all.
Let's take a quick rewind to last Friday night in Palestine. Arp and Crockett were tied at 32-32 with the clock almost out at Westwood's Panther Stadium in their Class 3A Division II Region II semifinal game.
The Tigers attempted one last pass play as time ran out, but Crockett jumped offsides to give Arp a final play with all zeroes on the board.
After discussing it with his assistants, Arp head coach Dale Irwin opted to go for a 38-yard field goal -- even though kicker Ford Merritt had already missed two extra points in the game.
"My assistants told me to kick it. I mean, what did we have to lose?" Irwin said. "Ford came up to me and he hugged me, patted me on the butt and said, 'I got this, coach.' And then he goes out there and makes the dad gum thing. It was one of the best games I've ever been associated with, no doubt."
Now, for the fifth time in school history, Arp (11-2) is playing in the fourth round of the playoffs.
"These kids have worked really, really hard and they're excited. The community's excited. Everybody's excited," Irwin said. "We're just ready to play."
Irwin has now been at Arp for 17 years, the last 14 as head coach. He's been a part of some special teams in his tenure, including the Tigers' dominating run in 2000 and 2001, and again in 2008 and 2009. But he said there's one thing that sets this year's team apart from all the ones he coached before.
"From the time that Waskom beat us in the third round last year, these kids have made it their goal to, one, go further than last year and, two, try to be one of the best teams to ever come through here," Irwin said. "With their work in the spring, to summer time and all the way up to today, they have done nothing but show us they're going to try to get that goal. Their determination and grit to bounce back from tough times this season has just been extraordinary."
Up next is without a doubt Arp's toughest test in its successful 2016 season. Arp faces unbeaten Newton (13-0), which has dominated in almost every game this year. Arp and Newton share two common opponents in Crockett and Elysian Fields. Arp beat Crockett 35-32 and Newton won 42-21, while Arp lost to Elysian Fields 34-27 and Newton won last week, 30-20.
"I don't know that I've ever played two teams this talented back-to-back. This is our sixth quarterfinals and we've played some good teams along the way, but not back-to-back like this," Irwin said. "(Newton) has Division I athletes everywhere. But our kids believe that we can play with anyone right now, and they'll do that until they prove us wrong. We're excited to play a team like this. We've got to bring everything we've got to the party."
Irwin said the key to his team winning this game -- and thus pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the year -- is to just play football like his team knows how to play.
"When we played Elysian Fields up there we had two crucial turnovers that killed us. We know we can't turn the ball over," Irwin said. "Elysian Fields did a real good job of running the football (against Newton) and we're hoping we can bring that over into this game. We have to keep that offense off the field. It's going to come down to who can execute the best."