Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas


November 20, 2013

Todd Wills: Memories of Frost-Tenaha stay with me

FROST — There are high school football playoff games that remain in your memory bank because your team won in dramatic fashion.

Blooming Grove fans know this feeling of euphoria after last week's 48-yard field goal by Tyler Ellis in the final seconds shocked favored Jacksboro, sending the Lions into the area round of the playoffs.

There are also playoff games that stay with you because of the heartbreak. The 1997 Corsicana-Texas City state championship game comes immediately to mind.

So does last year's Frost-Tenaha regional final, a 34-30 defeat for the Polar Bears.

These losses stay with you because of the sorrow and the suddenness of it all. But also these games remain a part of your sports memory bank because of the pride you felt watching your team compete for four quarters, overcoming huge odds to be in position to play for another week.

In Frost, these emotions are fresh on the minds of Polar Bears coach Eric Blenden, the returning players and their fans. Frost came within two yards of pulling off the upset of upsets last season against Class 1A powerhouse Tenaha.

The Cinderella Polar Bears, who five years before didn't finish a season because of a lack of players, were two yards away from possibly playing for the state championship. Instead it was Tenaha which won the next week in the state semifinals before falling to Munday in the 1A-DII title game at Cowboys Stadium.

What Frost almost pulled off is the stuff of Jimmy Chitwood and “Hoosiers.” It will be years —  maybe decades — before we see something like what Frost nearly did last season.

Unless the Polar Bears pull off an even bigger upset Friday night in Lindale with Tenaha favored to get back to the state title game and Frost a bigger underdog this time.

Back to last year.

I remember vividly broadcasting the game on the radio. Frost fell behind 20-0 early in the second quarter and me and radio partners Rusty Hitt and Richey Cutrer were preparing in our minds to fill two hours of time on the radio. I'm just being honest.

Then Jacob Stroder hit Josh Riojas for a touchdown pass and Frost had life. Even after Tenaha answered with a score for a 26-8 lead, Steels returned a kickoff for a touchdown with five seconds left before halftime and ran in the two-point conversion to make it 26-16.

Steels rushed for two more touchdowns, the second two minutes into the fourth quarter, to give Frost an improbable 30-26 lead. And when Tenaha took back the lead with just over five minutes -- they had to feel they had finally put and end to the giant killers from Frost -- the Polar Bears once again called upon their courage and drove inside the Tenaha 5.

These are the moments that legends are made of and the anticipation in our radio booth and in the stadium was something I've felt few times at any sporting event.

One second to go. Frost ball at the 2. Tenaha unable to slow down the Wing T. A running back in Steels who could fall down and gain two yards. You'd have to be living in denial if you didn't think Steels and Frost were going to score.

The Polar Bears didn't score. Instead, Woody Woods' elbow collided with the football, knocking the ball out of Jake Stroder's hands. Tenaha recovered the fumble. Frost's coaches, players and fans never got to feel the elation of the biggest win in school history.

Blenden said he's never talked to his team about the fumble.

“There was a lot of people that had different theories,” Blenden said. “It comes down to you didn't execute a play. It could have happened on the first play of the game and no one would have every remembered it. It just happened to be the biggest play of the game. It's just one of those plays.”

Blenden addressed his players the first day of practice this season about the game itself and what Frost achieved in 2012, having no clue the Polar Bears would get a rematch with Tenaha some four months later.

Yes, he's thought about the loss often. Who wouldn't?

“I don't want to sound like I'm dwelling on it every day,” Blenden said. “There are some times this week when it brings back memories of the way it ended. Both there are some good memories of playing well and playing good ball against the team that made it to the state championship.”

That's the beauty of this one game. What the Polar Bears accomplished that night to have a chance for the upset.

Steels, who was labeled as “soft” by rival coaches, destroyed every Tenaha defender in his way that December night. He was in beast-mode.

Woods, who has unnecessarily put much of the blame on himself for that last play, kept his team in the game in the first quarter. While doubt was seeping into the minds of some of his teammates, Woods was the hardest-hitting player on the field. He could not have played a better football game.

Blenden and his coaches called a brilliant game, converting twice on fourth down on the final drive. The Polar Bears ran a Statue of Liberty play for a first down.

“We look back and we were down 20-0, and then good things happened on defense,” Blenden said. “Then in the second half we outplayed them. We played with some heart and effort..

“Does any of that carry over (to Friday night)? I hope so.”

Steels and Stroder are gone, but a lot of the Polar Bears who made plays that night are back. Including Woods, who has been pumped up this week.

“He has a little extra step,” Blenden said. “Hopefully he can continue to play as well as he did last week.”

On paper, a Frost win Friday night is a bigger long shot than it was a little less than a year ago.

But they don't play these games on paper as well know. Who knows, maybe Blenden will have another game to remember to add to his collection.

No one will ever forget Dec. 7, 2012 in Frost. Or Tenaha.

“It was a tale of two halves,” said Tenaha coach Terry Ward, who will be back on the sideline on Friday night. “Tenaha had all the momentum and Frost's coaches made some great second-half adjustments. There were some chances both ways to win it. Everyone talks about the last play. But there were some other ones.

“It was a great game,” Blenden said. “I hope it's not the biggest game I ever coach in. But being in my first year and where we came from it's always going to be in my top three.”

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