The English say, "Remember, remember, the fifth of November." Stephenville's football team would do well to "Remember, remember the 21st of July."
The Yellow Jacket 7-on-7 team cruised through pool play at the state tournament at Penberthy Intramural Fields at Texas A&M in College Station the day prior. They were widely considered the favorite entering the event.
But in bracket play on July 21, the Jackets met Burnet in the first round and saw a big early lead turn into an overtime defeat that sent them home much earlier than anyone anticipated.
"It was such a letdown; we expected so much more out of ourselves," explained Stephenville senior wide receiver Brice Gunter. "We said right then, if we see them in the playoffs, they better be ready."
Stephenville head coach Joe Gillespie had a similar take on the situation.
"Our kids were a little shocked and upset with themselves for not taking care of business, and of course Burnet was over there hooping and hollering - not to be disrespectful, but because they had just won a big ball game," Gillespie said of the moments following the defeat. "I told them, No. 1, it's touch football, and No. 2, you could see them again in the first round of the real playoffs. When I mentioned that, the spark come back in their eyes a little bit."
Funny how things come full circle.
Stephenville indeed is facing Burnet in the state playoffs. Not in touch football, but in a very real single-elimination 3A Division I bi-district playoff at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Waco ISD Stadium. The winner faces Kennedale or Burkburnett in the area round.
"As soon as we knew for sure it would be Burnet (in the first round), the kids started talking about it and how this is how they wanted it to come out," Gillespie said. "We're going to get our chance at them; we have them for 48 minutes Friday."
Gunter is excited to see the Bulldogs again.
"It's not like if we beat Burnet we've reached our goals, but having to go through them has kind of fueled our fire even more," Gunter said. "It's an opponent who knocked us out of something we worked hard for. We need to accept the challenge and rise to it."
Witt Westbrook said the team has focused mostly on being mentally prepared for their playoff journey, but Burnet has not been far from the senior running back's mind. He scored a touchdown in overtime of the 7-on-7 confrontation, but the Yellow Jackets failed to convert the ensuing two-point conversion needed to stay alive.
Now the team's meet under totally different, yet eerily similar circumstances. Different because of the physicality and other stark differences between 7-on-7 and what will unfold in the playoffs Friday, but similar because Stephenville again faces the pressure of being heavily favored while Burnet comes in with nothing to lose as the third-place finisher in its district.
The summer loss is never far from Westbrook's mind, but he knows the key in any playoff game is being prepared to put your best product on the field.
"We've talked about it, sure; it's hard not to," Westbrook said Monday before the Jackets began their week of practice. "But we just have to be mentally ready to play Stephenville football; if we do that I think we've got this."
As nice as serving up a bit of revenge would be, Gunter agrees that preparing to play playoff football trumps simply wanting to get past Burnet.
"Mainly, we're just preparing our minds for the journey," Gunter said. "But we have been reminding each other of this summer. We'll be ready."