Before Stephenville could establish itself as one of Class 4A's true football powers, the Yellow Jackets had to prove their rise from bottom dweller status was complete.

The Jackets mired in mediocrity - or worse - for 37 years until 1989, when a head coach named Art Briles, a defensive coordinator named Mike Copeland and a linebacker named Joseph Gillespie teamed up to help the program to its first playoff win - at Baylor's Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco.

Stephenville had not won a postseason contest since 1952, but that changed when the '89 Jackets upset Belton 32-6.

Copeland remembers that win as the one that touched off Stephenville's remarkable 22-year run of success.

"It was our first playoff win since 1952. That's a big credit to the kids in that ball game, and Coach Gillespie was one of them," Copeland said. "We went down there and played Belton - they were rated No. 5 in the state and we weren't rated. We played hard and did things right, and we ended up beating them pretty good."

That victory didn't just set up Stephenville to begin a run of dominance that has included four state titles in the 1990s and 21 playoff trips in 22 years, it also set up a run of four straight Stephenville playoff wins over eight seasons at Floyd Casey Stadium, where Briles now leads the Baylor program.

Stephenville returned to Floyd Casey in 1993 for a state semifinal battle.

Current Stephenville linebackers coach Jeffrey Thompson and offensive line coach Curtis Lowery were teammates on that team, which upset mighty Waxahachie 22-21 before capturing the school's first state title a week later.

Waxahachie had won 30 consecutive games, was the defending 4A champ and had been ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll all year.

Thompson and Lowery knew they were big underdogs entering the contest.

"We were coming off a quarterfinal run the year before, and we were undefeated at the time," Thompson said. "But we were taking on the undefeated state champions. Nobody gave us much hope of winning that football game. We used that as motivation."

"We knew we could beat them," Lowery said. "But we also knew we were the only ones who felt that way. We knew we would have to play well, but we knew they weren't unbeatable."

Stephenville proved just that when Texas High School Football Hall of Famer Branndon Stewart tossed a 50-yard touchdown to Jason Bragg, then hooked up with Bragg again for the game-winning 2-point conversion. Stewart had also scored on a 64-yard option keeper earlier in the game.

One of Thompson's biggest memories came from before the game.

"I remember not really knowing what Coach Copeland was saying in pregame because our fans were outside in the tunnel with their cans," Thompson said. "It was so loud and we were so fired up."

Copeland says one of his most significant memories of the evening came from an opposing player.

"They had won the state title the year before," said Copeland, "and I remember their big tight end, No. 87, coming up to me and putting an arm around me and saying, 'Coach I don't care how hard you played tonight, you have to play harder next week to win it all.'"

So Stephenville played even harder a week later, defeating La Marque 26-13 in the state championship game.

The next season the Jackets were back at Baylor's home for another semifinal contest. This time it was Corsicana and superstar running back Kedrick Sanford who blocked their path to state.

"The thing I remember about playing Corsicana is they had Kedrick Sanford," Copeland said. "He was the 4A leading rusher in the state and a great I-back, and we shut him down. We played phenomenal defense that game, and that's one thing you have to do in the playoffs."

Stephenville won 28-6, and a week later repeated as state champ with a 32-17 victory over La Marque.

The 1993 semifinal win sticks out more than the 1994 victory in the memories of both Lowery and Thompson.

"I remember the Waxahachie game a lot more than the Corsicana game just because we had never been past (the semifinals) before," Lowery said.

"The 1993 game was just so much more memorable," Thompson added. "It was a great football game. Waxahachie had a great team. We just made more plays than they did that night and came out on top."

Copeland was still defensive coordinator and Gillespie was on staff as an assistant when Stephenville returned to Baylor for the last time in 1996. Thompson and Lowery were off in college and missed the Jackets' 27-20 area-round victory over White Settlement Brewer.

Fourteen years later, the Jackets will meet Aledo Friday with a regional championship and a spot in the 4A Division II semifinals against either Mesquite Poteet or Bastrop on the line.

The name of the opponent is different than in the 1990s, but Thompson and Lowery agreed several things about the matchup with Waxahachie and Friday's game against Aledo are eerily similar.

"The Waxahachie game stacks up a lot like this game," Lowery said. "They're the big dogs. When they talk about games you'll never forget, well, this is one of those games."

Lowery agrees.

"Waxahachie was on a long winning streak and everybody expected them to win, a lot like Aledo this year," Thompson said. "But the thing then that's still true today is that you still have to go out there and play the game."

None of the coaches are superstitious enough to believe being back at Floyd Casey Stadium is all it will take for Stephenville to snap its four-game losing streak to Aledo.

"I don't think stadiums really have a lot to do with it," Copeland said.

But that doesn't mean they aren't confident in pulling off some more Floyd Casey magic.

"It's not the field, it's the kids on the field," Copeland continued. "And I have a lot of confidence in our guys."