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Lion football brilliance emerged within Texas Stadium

Ennis played 19 games and won two titles in home of Cowboys
The era of Ennis Lion football at Texas Stadium may have ended last month, but the memories remain.
The facility opened in 1971 and it will host its last high school football game on Friday. Along the way, the Lions have produced more than their fair share of stellar gridiron moments.
Over a 10-year period, Ennis hit the field for 19 playoff games within the Irving landmark. Coach Sam Harrell fondly recollects the numerous trips up I-45 each year when the holidays came around.
“We’ve always been comfortable going there and enjoyed it so much,” he said.
“Our fans also got comfortable and eventually it felt like a home game when you came down that tunnel. It wasn’t just any stadium; it was Texas Stadium – where the Cowboys play, and we were there about as often as they were for a while. It was a fun time for our program.”
Harrell developed a good relationship with Texas Stadium general manager Bruce Hardy and the Lions were well taken care of when they’d arrive on game day.
“Bruce was really nice and he’d put us in the dressing room we wanted and on the sideline we wanted,” Harrell said.
“We liked to play the first game of the day, but if we couldn’t get it we’d get the second game and Bruce would put our team up in the Stadium Club so we could show up early and relax.”
Former Lion player Ronnie Greer remains as close to the program as anyone and he also recognizes the good relationship between the team and Texas Stadium employees.
“The security people and press box people were generally glad to see us come back and they welcomed us back for this year’s game,” Greer said.
“One of the main things I remember [earlier in the decade] is the line of Ennis fans at the stadium gates backed up to the highway. Our fan base would start showing up five or six hours before game time. The gate attendant I talked to had been working there from day one and he’d never seen fans support a team like Ennis fans did.
“When he’d show up for work, there would already be Ennis fans in line. We used to fill up our side of Texas Stadium from end zone to end zone – it was Lions Stadium North.”
Greer said that Ennis players couldn’t help but feed off of the crowd energy and it would be almost deafening at times in big games, yet the Lions were always ready to come back to Irving the next week.
“There’s nothing to compare to the run we had in 1999, ’00 and ’01 as far as all the fan support, and I’ve been watching Ennis football since 1966,” Greer said.
A lot of times, the opposing team would simply agree to play the Lions in Texas Stadium. Of course, there were plenty of occasions where Harrell had to flip a coin for the playoff game’s location and he got on quite a streak of winning those flips at one point.
“In 2000, we played six playoff games and the last five of them were all at Texas Stadium,” the coach said.
“Every week we had the same routine of getting on the same charter bus and heading up there, which was neat to be a part of. We had a great fan base that would travel up there and it kept growing each week. It was a great trip for the fans around Christmastime; before or after the game they could go eat at a nice restaurant or go shopping.”
In the ’00 season Harrell mentioned, he had to win flips for each of the team’s final-three playoff games to be held in Lions Stadium North. To this day, Lion players who’ve taken the field at Texas Stadium still have a tangible keepsake.
“Texas Stadium [officials give] each player a name tag for their locker and I know my boys really enjoyed getting to keep those and hang them in their room,” Harrell said.

Grand gridiron battles won and lost
The result was never in doubt during Ennis’ initial contest in Texas Stadium – a 62-0 victory over Dallas Samuel in 1999. The Lions would beat Greenville 31-8 and then lose a monumental state-semifinal matchup against Stephenville by a 34-31 margin thanks to a field goal in overtime. Stephenville went on to win its second-straight 4A Div. II crown with a 28-18 victory over Port Neches-Groves.
“The Stephenville game was a great one with a lot of buildup,” Harrell said.
“They were the defending state champs and they had a really good ballclub. We played them tough and, even though we lost, it was the game that got us over the hump for the years to come. It was huge for our program to play well in a setting like that; we realized we could compete at that level.”
Harrell really enjoyed the intense setting in Texas Stadium for that matchup as the Stephenville fans furiously jerked their “shaker cans” about – an item now essential for Texas high school football that Ennis fans have embraced.
Greer also recognizes the enormous impact the loss to Stephenville had on the Lion program.
“The ’99 game vs. Stephenville was really the renaissance of Ennis football,” he said.
“The kids had found success before that, but we really could’ve won that game in a big-time atmosphere and you could feel this was something we’d build on. We had a good nucleus of kids coming back and I felt like they weren’t going to be denied next time.”
As Harrell eluded to in 2000, the Lions played nearly a third of their season in Texas Stadium. After postseason victories over South Oak Cliff (46-12), Lancaster (41-7) and Jacksonville (48-13), Ennis pulled off an epic 23-20 upset over No.1-ranked Wichita Falls in the state semis.
“That was the game with ‘the catch,’” Harrell said.
“Wichita Falls was ahead late in the game and we were driving the ball on about their 12 [yard line]. On third-and-short, the snap zinged past [quarterback] Tate’s (Wallace) head and he did a great job of hustling back to get it before a defensive end could jump on it. Now we’re facing fourth-and-13; Tate scrambled to his right and eventually [Broderick Jones] worked to get open over the middle.
“He made a leaping grab over two defenders to win the ballgame; it was definitely the catch of the year. That was supposedly Wichita Falls’ greatest team ever. They were undefeated and it was a huge victory to get us to the state finals.”
From his spot on the sideline, Greer witnessed a “knockdown, drag-out battle.”
“After the guys pulled it out with B.J.’s catch, there’s no way in heck they were going to get beat the next week,” Greer said.
Sure enough, Ennis jumped out to a big halftime lead over West-Orange Stark and survived a late-second quarter injury to Jones to hold on for a 38-24 victory that secured the program’s second state championship.
“West-Orange Stark had been playing man-to-man defense all season and they [unsuccessfully] tried to do so against B.J. and [fellow receiver] Vincent Marshall in the first half as we built that huge lead,” Harrell said.
“Winning flips against Wichita Falls and West-Orange Stark to play at Texas Stadium were crucial for us that year.”
In 2001, an undefeated Ennis team traveled to Texas Stadium three times. First came a 28-0 victory over Dallas Lincoln, and then the Lions met up with Highland Park for an epic 45-38 victory.
“Highland Park was ahead nearly the entire game and we trailed by 14 at one time,” Harrell said.
“We hit a long touchdown pass to Vincent that helped us tie it up with a few minutes left.”
Greer had a behind-the-scenes view to set the stage for what came next.
“Sophomore Anthony Jenkins was having a huge defensive game for us before he was knocked out cold in the second quarter,” Greer said.
“At halftime, our trainer told him he shouldn’t return, but A.J. talked his way back out there. Deep in his own territory, the Highland Park quarterback was rolling toward the sideline late in the game and, instead of just throwing the ball out of bounds, he tried to float a pass over A.J. that he snagged with a leaping interception. Anthony’s performance personified the whole team’s effort that day because they wouldn’t accept defeat.”
Sure enough, Ennis capitalized on Jenkins’ huge play as quarterback Graham Harrell called his own number and hit paydirt to clinch a trip to the state semis.
Ennis met up with Southlake Carroll in Texas Stadium in a contest that was a tale of two halves. The Dragons led at halftime only to see the Lions annihilate them in the second half for a 49-17 victory.
It marked Carroll’s last loss before it moved up to 5A and won 58-straight games against Texas teams. Ennis went on to beat Bay City 21-0 for its third state championship.
The Lions also played three games in Texas Stadium during 2002. Ennis beat Highland Park 35-13, topped Wylie 42-7 and then lost 18-14 to Denton Ryan in the state semis. Denton Ryan went on to defeat Brenham 38-8 for the Div. II state title.
Greer preferred to credit the opponent for a game well played.
“They made a heck of a goal line stand [for the win],” he said.
“I think [Denton Ryan deserves] some credit instead of anyone blaming our guys for what we didn’t do.”
“We probably should’ve won that game, but maybe we shouldn’t have won the Wichita Falls game in 2000,” Harrell added.
“Good breaks and bad breaks have a way of evening themselves out.”
Ennis broke a bevy of offensive records in 2003, but it only played one game in Texas Stadium as Highland Park pulled off a 38-28 upset.
“We didn’t play well that day against a good team and so you’re not normally going to win in a situation like that,” Harrell said.
In 2004, the Lions made a pair of trips to Texas Stadium as they beat Texas High 34-10 and then held off Marshall 23-21 for a fourth state championship.
“That was a really exciting game and we were a great defensive team that year,” Harrell said.
“In crunchtime, it was a good feeling to have our defense out there to secure the win. They got a big stop just like they’d done all year.”
In 2005, the Lions lost a 45-28 ballgame to Highland Park in Texas Stadium. Highland Park went on to beat Marshall 59-0 for the Div. I state championship. Over a seven-year period, Ennis either won the state title or lost to the eventual state champion in six of those seasons.
“We were going to have to play [Highland Park] at some point [in ’05] and it just so happened that we caught them in the third round,” Harrell said.
“That’s how it goes when you have great teams in your region.”
Of course, Ennis’ final trip to Texas Stadium came just a few weeks ago in a 17-14 loss to Rockwall-Heath.
“We played really well on defense in that game and had a chance to win in spite of all our turnovers,” Harrell said.
“It was a goal of our kids to play there this year and they accomplished that. Deep down they know they were good enough to be playing the next week, but it didn’t work out that way.”

Future second home to be determined
Before the run of playoff games at Texas Stadium, the Lions used to see a lot of postseason action at Garland’s Homer B. Johnson Stadium.
During the early part of this decade, a lot of Ennis’ postseason games that weren’t in Irving were still played at Homer B.
“[Homer B.] holds a lot of good memories for us just as Texas Stadium does and you never know if we’ll find a new [second-home] stadium now,” Harrell said.
“There are a lot of good ones to choose from in the DFW area.”
Like Harrell and his fellow coaches, Lion players and fans, Greer takes a lot of warm playoff memories from Texas Stadium with him.
“There will be new seasons to enjoy, but you’ll never replace those times we had with the run early in this decade,” Greer said.
“The one thing that always remains is pride in the program – the way it brings our community together. At Texas Stadium, no matter the color of our skin or how much money we had, we were all Ennis fans there to root our boys on. That’s not going to change, even if our [go-to] stadium does.”

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Posted by on Dec 18 2008. Filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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