Preseason magazines tell you how many offensive and defensive starters each team returns. Kickers, punters, holders, long snappers and even return specialists are rarely noted in post season honors unless it's awards specific to the kicking game.

But area coaches all agree - special teams are an equal third of a football game.

"It's offense, defense and special teams, all three," Dublin head coach Bob Cervetto said. "If you're just worried about your offense and defense and you don't focus on your special teams, they'll get you beat. If you do some good things on special teams, you can win some games you might not have if it was just all about offense and defense."

Special teams were pivotal to last week's season openers across the area, and for Dublin and Hico, the kicking game was a roller coaster of big plays.

Dublin had a bad punt snap that gave Hico first and goal before the Tigers scored a first half touchdown, and a punt blocked in the second half that resulted directly in a TD. Blake Hyles blocked the kick for Hico, and Cade Hitzfeld recovered in the end zone. Hico also capitalized defensively with a safety one play after downing a punt at the Dublin one.

The Lions also had a big play on special teams to temporarily stay close with Hico. Dirk DeVries returned a punt 81 yards to pay dirt, and the ensuing two-point conversion had Dublin trailing just 16-15 midway through the second quarter.

Each team had other good kick returns, with Hico using its "starburst" return that hides the ball similarly to how the Tigers are used to hiding it in their wing-T offense.

Hico beat Dublin 48-23 last Thursday, but big plays in the kicking game continued on Friday at Tarleton Memorial Stadium.

Luis Garcia hit a 30-yard field goal late in the third quarter to give Stephenville the final edge in a 17-16 victory over Prepa Tec Monterrey (Mex.). Field position was often in the Yellow Jackets' favor because of Luis Luna, also a soccer standout, had a 52-yard punt and downed two others inside the 20.

Prepa Tec also hit a field goal, but the Borregos missed an extra point, and it stood as the difference in the game.

"The kicking game was the difference," said Stephenville head coach Joe Gillespie. "Special teams are huge; we talk about it all the time, and games like this just prove how crucial they are."

It certainly isn't the first game in Gillespie's six years as head coach that has been affected by the kicking game. Just last year, Stephenville recovered a muffed kickoff and then scored for an early 14-0 lead against Kilgore in the 3A Division I semifinals. The Yellow Jackets won 42-32, and captured their fifth state title the following week.

Earlier last season, there were nervous moments when Glen Rose recovered an onside kick to start the second half against the Jackets. The Tigers almost cashed in, but a deep pass on a trick play was called back due to a penalty on the first play from scrimmage.

Fans should have no problem recalling how vital special teams were in Stephenville's 48-47 win against Aledo in the 2011 season opener. Preston Brown and Padyn Giebler, now playing for Tarleton State and Incarnate Word, teamed up to block not one, but two Aledo field goals at the end of the game.

In Hico, head coach Keith Wood says big plays often happen in special teams by nature.

"In high school, especially early in the season, it's hard to figure out which kids to put where all the time. We may be running down the field on kickoff coverage with one guy running a 4.6 (40 time), one guy running a 4.8 and a third guy running a 5.0. When they get there at different times or in different levels, it creates seams and that's when big plays happen," Wood said. "There's just so much wide open space out there in the kicking game, and it's hard to get it all covered."

Special teams, though not on the field as often as offense and defense, are still a third of the game. To win consistently, they must be "special" indeed.

Because as many games are won in the kicking game, just as many are lost.