El Paso Eastwood Drives More Than 700 Miles For A Chance At Tyler 7-On-7 Tournament
TYLER -- You don't know real road weariness until you examine the curious cases of extreme West Texas.
El Paso Eastwood's Class 6A Region I playoff road this season could take it as far east as the fringes of Fort Worth. It even met Wolfforth Frenship [sic] in Artesia, N.M., for a truly neutral-site playoff game last year.
But the team -- fittingly called the Troopers -- took it a much further step by traveling 727 miles to be a part of the Tyler State Qualifying Tournament in its pursuit to compete for a Division I 7-on-7 state championship.
"We played in our own qualifier in El Paso," brand new Eastwood head coach Julio Lopez said. "We went undefeated in pool play, went to the semifinals to qualify. We were up 33-27 with, like, 15 seconds left. One thing led to another, a couple of penalties later, they get one more shot and beat us on the last play of the game.
"So it left a bad taste in our mouth. Obviously, we wanted to qualify there and go to College Station from there. But, immediately, we have a great set of parents and a great group of kids, and wanted to go somewhere. We called around and Tyler had an opening. They held a spot for us, we got some vans together, stayed in a Motel 6. And we're here."
But yet again, with Lopez watching as a fan, barred by rules from coaching 7-on-7, the Troopers were just a bit shy of clinching a state tournament berth. They dropped a 20-7 opening game to Longview.
Eastwood went on to defeat Lufkin, already a state qualifier, by a score of 39-20 and nearly doubled up Huntsville before heading back home.
Longview also suffered one loss in pool play, but it came to Lufkin. Since Lufkin already qualified, it forfeited the game back to the Lobos as it would have for Eastwood. That allowed the local contender to square off with Tyler Lee for a tournament berth, a loss.
"I think, to be honest, Longview was our first game and I think our kids were feeling it out," Lopez said. "We wouldn't play these teams until the late rounds of the playoffs. Maybe the state championship. I think we came out a little flat and ultimately that was the blow.
"But, after that, we got our feet underneath us and played really good against Lufkin and Huntsville. The kids just wanted the opportunity to show Eastwood and El Paso football is catching up to the rest of the state."
Eastwood's in-city rival, El Paso Canutillo, became the first team from its enormous county to reach a UIL state semifinal game. It lost to Ennis from the East Texas-centric District 16-5A in a neutral-site game at Lubbock's Lowery Field.
The Troopers could be pretty good this season.
Receiver Richie Rodriguez is a UTEP commitment. Mark Torrez, a perfect quarterback prospect from the size standpoint, also shined at times against two of the region's most historical teams.
"This was a good experience because we don't see that type of size and talent and speed at El Paso where we're at," Torrez said. "It was a good experience for us to actually realize who we've got coming in the playoffs."
If Longview played 727 miles east from home, it would be well inside the Florida Panhandle. Lufkin would be within five miles of Tallahassee, Fla.
"Our philosophy, and I'm sure it is for any coach, it's for the kids," Lopez said. "Everything we do is for the kids. We've got a really good group at Eastwood. I know it's not common for an El Paso team to drive all the way to Tyler, but we wanted our kids to be able to compete at the highest level.
"We thought Tyler had a great tournament. We had a great pool. It was a grind, a 12-hour drive. We got in late, went to bed at midnight. But we woke up and played well today."
Will the Troopers consider a return trip next year if they find themselves in the same situation?
"We wanted to make it worth it," Rodriguez said. "It was real tiring. It was a last minute thing, but we decided we wanted to do it as a team. We came out and did it."