Editor's Note: This is the third in a four-part series taking a look back at the high school football rivalry between Stephenville and Wichita Falls Rider. The Jackets and Raiders meet again 7:30 p.m. Friday at Northwest ISD Stadium in Justin.
By BRAD KEITH
While Wichita Falls Rider has twice eliminated Stephenville from the Class 4A Division II football playoffs, the Yellow Jackets look back to a pair of regular season wins against the Raiders to remind themselves and everyone that it can be done. Stephenville can beat Rider.
In 2006, the Yellow Jackets and Raiders each reloaded at several key positions with young players who grew up quickly in big games. Many of those players who stepped up in the first regular season showdown are the same who are expected to shine when the schools tangle again in Justin Friday.
The week three meeting in 2006 was the second time the 4A titans went to battle, the first since the 2004 playoff meeting when the Raiders eliminated the Jackets, 63-42.
For Stephenville, the game was billed as the Yellow Jackets' first big test of the season.
The Jackets passed that test on the back of Kody Spano, who announced his presence as one of the top juniors in the state when he completed 25 of 37 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for a team-high 83 yards and another score. Spano had a hand in 313 of the Jackets' 345 total yards, as Stephenville prevailed, 24-15.
In the aftermath of the first big victory of the 2006 season, Stephenville Head Coach Chad Morris said his team grew up against a very good football team.
The growing came right before the eyes of a packed Memorial Stadium in Stephenville on Sept. 15, 2006, as the Jackets overcame a six-point halftime deficit to win.
Rider sought revenge in the state playoffs and got it on a 12-yard Shavodrick Beaver touchdown pass to Eric Ward with 29 seconds remaining.
The Raiders marched on to the Division II quarterfinal after the 17-13 win, while Stephenville began the long off season.
But the Jackets proved again in week three this year that it can be done.
After falling behind 9-0 in the early going, Stephenville managed to break into the scoring column with a five-yard Brad Mills touchdown run to make it 9-7 at the halftime break.
Just as it was in the 2006 regular season, the Jackets took the game over in the second half. Cody Davis returned a punt 62 yards after Rider went three-and-out against the SHS defense, and Mills punched it in again from the five three plays later to give the Jackets the lead.
Rider would never lead again, as Stephenville stretched its advantage to 20-9 on a one-yard dive across the goal line by Spano. That drive was kept alive when Morris and staff called for a fake punt and Cody Wood ran for the conversion.
Rider would pull within five on a 66-yard catch and run by Ward on a Beaver pass, but Stephenville put the final points on the board when Chris Malone caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Spano.
Stephenville fell to Rider in 2004, but the only player remaining from that Jacket team is four-year letterman Trey Taylor. The seniors at the two schools have met three times in two years with Stephenville winning twice and Rider once.
While the Jackets have yet to defeat the Raiders in the postseason entering Friday's area-round match-up, Morris says the coaching staff and players at Stephenville are well aware how close they are to having swept the Raiders over the past two years.
On Friday, Stephenville will try to do in the playoffs what they feel the regular season meetings have proven possible - beat Rider.
In part four of The Nemesis, the series concludes with an inside perspective into the Stephenville-Rider rivalry as only a player who has participated in every battle can give. Read Thursday to find what Stephenville four-year letterman Trey Taylor has to say about Jackets vs. Raiders.
Brad Keith is the sports editor at the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at (254) 965-3124, ext. 241, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.