By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
The general idea behind a golden football atop a wooden box is simple across Texas high school football: A championship has been won. That hardware does not resonate the exact same with all who touch it, though.
As board president John Anderson lifted the District 6-5A Division II championship trophy out of a brown cardboard box hidden against the fence that lines the track inside Billy Goodloe Stadium on Thursday night, it brought back memories of his time on the Red Oak football team in 1982.
It was a season that began with a mantra to “Think Turf,” as the team knew that in order to play on an artificial surface and not grass — and, in this case, a true Astroturf-type surface complete with concrete seams — they had to win an outright district championship.
Those Hawks accomplished their goal and bowed out of the bi-district round of the playoffs. That was 37 years ago. It’s also old news now.
As head coach Chris Ross hoisted the district championship trophy in front of the district-champion Hawks after Thursday’s 48-13 drubbing of Seagoville, he reminded them of two things.
The first being that their journey is far from over, emphasizing that they will now take the field each week to play for their football lives. He also reminded the group that the golden football in front of them was the culmination of a two-year journey.
“Like I told the kids, this is two years in the making,” Ross said after speaking to the team. “They didn’t win this tonight, they won this with their hard work and their efforts that they have put in all year long.
“[…] It wasn’t maybe our best game. I thought at times we made some mistakes that we normally don’t make, but our guys played extremely hard and they have done that all year long. Overall, we are pleased with the win but we will have to play better next week.”
CJ Palmer rushed 12 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns to pace the Red Oak offense to 422 total yards, while the Hawk defense held the now-third-place Seagoville Dragons to 244 total yards and forced two turnovers.
Red Oak led 28-7 at the half and then outscored Seagoville 20-0 in the third quarter to put the game away.
Doubters can say what they want about the level of competition in District 6-5A, but the Hawks still had to beat the team across the field. They did that, and they did it well enough to match a school-record with nine regular-season wins. Red Oak will also head into the postseason on a nine-game winning streak for the first time in program history.
It was, after all, just four short seasons ago that the Hawks celebrated on the field after snapping a dismal 21-game losing skid. Coincidently enough, Thursday saw a Red Oak quarterback take a knee in the victory formation just 14 yards from the spot that Chris Bugg kneeled out that win in 2016.
Winning fixes most problems inside a locker room. Of course, stacking up wins on Friday (or Thursday) nights also helps to galvanize a community, which has certainly begun to happen in Red Oak.
“Although it’s been 37 years, I still remember it like it was yesterday,” said Anderson just before grabbing the district championship trophy to present to the Hawks. “I hope these kids understand what they are doing because it’s not just for them, it’s for the community and the school. This is huge. It will be something that they will always remember.”
He added, “These kids, I don’t think they quite understand the impact that they are having on their lives and the community, the school, the district and the kids. Nothing builds community enthusiasm like a winning football team. When we go to games to watch them play, we are with them…we are playing with them. This has been a lot of fun and I am hoping that it doesn’t stop. I’m hoping we can go all the way to [AT&T] Stadium and play for a state championship.”
Seagoville received the opening kick and punted four offensive plays later, setting the Hawks up with first down at their 48-yard line.
Five plays later, Joshua Ervin (11-16, 164 yards) completed a shovel pass behind the center to Coby Cavil (5-95, 2TD) for a 26-yard touchdown and 7-0 Red Oak lead with 5:48 showing on the first-quarter clock.
The game then turned in a hurry when junior safety Amarion Craddock intercepted an Eric Hall (2-8, 48 yards) pass on the ensuing Seagoville snap with 5:32 to play. And Craddock would’ve scored on a pick-six rather easily, too — had the pesky turf monster not have tripped him up at the Seagoville 24-yard line after a 12-yard return.
The Red Oak offense needed just one play to capitalize, as Raymond Gay II took a jet sweep from Ervin around the left side of the Hawk line and waltzed into the end zone.
Dakota Santos split the uprights on the extra-point kick to put the Hawks on top, 14-0, with 5:24 to play in the first quarter.
Red Oak forced Seagoville to punt on its next possession and shortly after crossing midfield to take over for the third time on offense — this time from the Hawks’ 7-yard line.
The Red Oak offense quickly found itself in a third-and-8 situation as the first-quarter clock dipped under 15 seconds to play.
The down and distance mattered very little to Ervin, as the senior quarterback fired a strike across the middle of the field to LaKelsey Jonshon (2-39) for a 26-yard gain to the Seagoville 48-yard line as the quarter closed.
Ervin then connected with Cavil on a skinny post inside the hash for a 48-yard touchdown just 11 seconds into the second quarter. Santos again drilled the point-after attempt through the posts for a 21-0 Red Oak lead.
At that point — and if there was any doubt before the opening kickoff — it had quickly become abundantly clear to the several hundred bundled-up spectators that Red Oak was going to win the football game. The forthcoming two-plus quarters would simply serve as a formality.
The Dragons did manage to find the end zone though, helped greatly by a Red Oak fumble on its ensuing offensive possession.
Hall capped the 6-play, 61-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run. The extra-point kick cut the Red Oak lead to 21-7 with 6:40 to play in the first half.
The Hawk offense wasted no time in responding.
Three snaps later, Ervin ran like a grown man for a 64-yard touchdown run, issuing a pair of stumble-inducing stiff arms along the way on what appeared to be a busted play. The quarterback scooped a low snap and elected to call his own number and bruised through the A-gap to put Red Oak up, 28-7, with 5:32 remaining on the first-half clock.
That score held as the two teams broke for the halftime locker room.
Any hope for a Seagoville comeback was dashed one stride at a time on the first snap of the second half when senior CJ Palmer took the football 68 yards for his 17th rushing touchdown of the season. The carry pushed Palmer over the 100-yard mark for the game and 1,200-yard plateau for the season.
The 34-7 Red Oak eventually lead grew by seven points when Palmer capped an eight-play, 51-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with 6:25 to play in the third quarter.
Palmer ended the game with 130 rushing yards and two touchdowns to run his season total to 1,222 yards and 18 scores. He has also done the majority of that damage in the first half of eight football games, as he missed the first game and has only played a full four quarters just once this season.
The regular-season totals are a testament to his workhorse mentality in the backfield and the dominant play by the five big guys up front.
“There has only been one game this year that CJ has played in all four quarters, so for him to do what he has done this year is a credit to not only him but that offensive line as well, Ross said. “CJ has had a great season and I am looking for him to step up in the playoffs and be even better.”
Zach Sanders eventually added a rushing touchdown for the Hawks with 2:45 to play in the third quarter to put Red Oak up 48-7. Seagoville capped the scoring with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Hall to Gavin Hurth with 1:04 to play in the ball game for the 48-13 final.
It’s important to note that the Hawks won a share of district championship in 2012 under longtime head coach Mike Shields.
The Hawks will now await the results of two District 5-5A Division II games — Burleson at Cleburne and Joshua at Everman — before beginning preparations for their 5A Division II bi-district championship tilt next Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Billy Goodloe Stadium.
All photos by Travis M. Smith/KBEC Sports
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith