For the ninth time in eight seasons, Stephenville and Aledo will square off on the gridiron tonight.
This time, however, is much different than past meetings.
The stage - Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, the $1.15 billion palace that is home to the famed Dallas Cowboys and is widely regarded as the best sports facility in the world.
At stake - An area championship and both teams’ seasons. The winner moves on to the 4A Division II Region I semifinals against either El Paso Parkland or Hereford, the loser begins off-season.
Six of the team’s previous eight meetings have come down to the final minute. Stephenville coach Joseph Gillespie feels this match-up has all the makings of equaling those classics.
“It’s two great high school football teams and it’s an area playoff game. Everyone in the state is going to want to know who won between Stephenville and Aledo, if they aren’t there to see it for themselves,” Gillespie said. “Unfortunately for one of these teams, their season is going to end.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m., with attendance expected to top 15,000.
The game is a rematch of an Aug. 28 season opener that host Aledo held on to win 20-16 because Stephenville fumbled near the Bearcats’ 10-yard line with time running out.
Gillespie credits that loss with helping his team get to where it is today.
“There were mistakes we made in that game that really got put under a microscope because we lost. It’s easier to overlook those little mistakes when you win,” he said. “But we learned a lot from that loss and from our loss to Denton Guyer (the next week). If we would have beat (Aledo) in that game, I don’t know that we would be quite the football team we are right now.”
Aledo, of course, has improved, too. And they had their own bump in the road to expose mistakes that have since been corrected. The Bearcats fell to Weatherford in a Parker County rivalry game 28-27 in overtime on Sept. 11, but have won eight straight since that time. They claimed the District 6-4A championship and thumped Little Elm 41-7 in the first round of the playoffs last Friday.
Stephenville has won nine straight including last week’s 62-13 thrashing of Fort Worth Polytechnic.
Both the Yellow Jackets and Bearcats rely mostly on young stars - particularly at quarterback and running back. Connor Washington of Stephenville and Matthew Bishop of Aledo, both sophomores, are the trigger pullers, and they have very similar numbers.
Washington is 159-250 passing (63.6 percent) for 2,088 yards and 17 touchdowns. Bishop is 127-188 (67.6 percent) for 1,879 yards and 16 scores.
Perhaps no match-up is more highly anticipated than at running back where Aledo features sophomore sensation Johnathan Grey, who has amassed 1,888 yards and 37 touchdowns on the ground.
Stephenville answers with junior James Myles, who despite being slowed by an ankle injury the first two weeks of the season has racked up 1,671 yards and 28 TDs in the run game.
Both are also good receivers out of the backfield as Myles has caught 40 passes for 427 yards and three scores and Grey has hauled in 20 receptions for 421 yards and eight TDs.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever had this high of a quality head-to-head running back match-up since I’ve been here,” said Gillespie, who has been on staff at Stephenville since 1995. “The closest I can remember is in 1998 when Andrews had Shaud Williams and we had Zac Hunter.”
And don’t forget defense, another area where both teams have excelled. Stephenville is surrendering just 13.3 points per game against such high octane opponents as Denton Guyer and Everman. Aledo, meanwhile, has given up just 13.1 points against the likes of Birdville and Saginaw Boswell.
The similarities between the success at both programs and the teams they currently field are endless. The bottom line is, something has to give, and someone’s season has to come to an end.
All Gillespie knows is this is exactly the match-up his team has hoped for since Aug. 28.
“We respect Aledo a lot, but we wanted this game,” Gillespie said. “You have to go through teams like Aledo to get to where we want to go.”