Mineola Only Has One Chapter Left To Write In Two-Year Quest For A Second Chance At State
MINEOLA -- Homer should be the one jotting this down.
Mineola's rise from a tough out within East Texas to a state heavyweight has not taken 10 years, but it has been an odyssey nonetheless.
Everyone is wondering how exactly it ends for a group of 16 starters that played for a narrow miss with history in 2014 as sophomores, a state semifinals loss as juniors and finally have their second-chance Class 3A Division I state championship game Thursday at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium in Arlington as seniors.
"We've played quite a bit of games," Yellowjackets senior quarterback Jeremiah Crawford said after Monday's championship game practice on campus at Meredith Memorial Stadium. "I've won 45 games over my high school career, so I've played quite a bit of games, and that goes for everyone. We played 16 my sophomore year, 15 my junior year and 16 now.
"We've played quite a bit of games, so we're coming out as if it's another game. It's not, 'Oh, we're in a big stadium. We're playing at the Cowboys' stadium.' We're coming out in a championship game, but we're coming out like it's another game where we need to beat the opponent in front of us."
The past games certainly have been adventures.
No one expected Mineola to catch lightning in a bottle with all the sophomores it trotted out onto the field in 2014. Yet that's what happened toward a 70-40 state championship game loss to Cameron Yoe, which won its third straight title that year.
Everyone expected the Yellowjackets to draw a rematch game with Yoe in 2015. Brock, in its second season as an organized 11-man football program, beat an undefeated Mineola team in the state semifinals and then took out Yoe for the crown.
Everyone expected the Yellowjackets to replay Brock in the 2016 state semifinals. Brock didn't make it and Mineola pounded the substitute last week.
Crawford and the rest of the three-year starters' journey has taken many surprising twists. It's surreal all that's left is a Yoakum team from South Texas open to the idea of shuttling the best class in school history across the River Styx.
Yoakum defeated an unbeaten Malakoff squad last week and spoiled an all-East Texas state championship game. It pretty much put to rest the merits of its 11-4 overall record compared to the Yellowjackets' 13-2 mark with no losses to 3A Division I competition.
"They're an awfully good football team," Mineola coach Joe Drennon said. "They're talented, extremely big. We're going to have to play really good to beat them. They're no slouch. You don't get to this point and be a bad football team. We're going to have to play a really good game."
Like the guys in The Odyssey, space odysseys, you-name-it odysseys, Drennon's crew has a pretty good grasp of the ultimate situation now that they've been given the gift of hindsight.
Things like the mystique of AT&T Stadium, and its quirks, should not be the booby traps they were when the Yellowjackets faced Yoe two seasons ago. They've seen the 60-yard jumbotron, 20,000 people in the seats, know the game is being aired throughout the Southwest region of the country and know the feeling of playing in a game of this magnitude.
That wasn't entirely the case in 2014 versus Yoe. Some features of championship games just can't be replicated in practice or in the games leading up to the title match.
"I think we're going to be a little bit more familiar with things, even as coaches," Drennon said. "We're going to do some things different this time. We're not going to leave so early to get the 'Oohs' and 'Ahs' out of us. I explained to the kids earlier, we're going to leave at a normal time. Hopefully, they'll let us into our dressing room at a normal time so we can get laid down, get ready to play our game and not worry about all the other stuff.
"I don't think the elements will shock us. We've seen it. Seventy to 80 percent of the kids played in the game last time, so hopefully that's not going to be a factor for us. But you never know. It is a big stadium."
That leaves preparation for Yoakum in the intermediate time. Getting ready for a team with two highly recruited skill players in Texas A&M junior receiver commitment Jordan Moore and heavily recruited twin brother Josh Moore.
Defensively, the twins will fall into senior safety Aaron Stanford's jurisdiction. He started versus Yoe two years ago and has been part of it all since.
"Going back will be a lot easier," Stanford said. "I think we're going to go out there, play our hearts out and give this team a tough match. Hopefully, we'll come out with a W and finish this."
Mineola will win the state championship game and complete its odyssey, or the adventure itself will be the longstanding story.
Either way, it has been a pretty good run for 16 starters suiting up for the final time.
"We have unfinished business," Crawford said. "We came out and went to state as sophomores, the semifinals as juniors and we're going to state again. We have a lot of unfinished business that we need to settle. Once we finish that, I think we'll be able to live just fine."