Stephenville and Brownwood have met as rivals on the football field 74 times over the years, but the 1996 double-overtime game stands out the most in the mind of former SHS coach and athletic director Mike Copeland.
The first meeting between the Yellow Jackets and the Lions was in 1937 — a 7-0 Stephenville victory. Brownwood leads the series with 46 wins compared to 29 for Stephenville. The schools have tied twice.
The series continues Friday night at Gordon Wood Stadium in Brownwood (7 p.m. kickoff) and as usual both teams have their eyes on the playoffs.
The 4-2 Lions are 1-0 in District 5-4A Division I under first-year head coach Sammy Burnett, coming off an open week. Meanwhile ninth-ranked Stephenville, coached by Greg Winder, is 1-1 in district and 4-3 over all coming off its 32-15 loss to fourth-ranked Waco La Vega. The Lions are tied with La Vega in the district standings, while the Jackets are tied for third with Gatesville, at 1-0 and China Spring is last at 0-2.
The Lions dominated the series with 22 victories over Stephenville in a row between 1964 and 1987, although the schools did not play each other in 1965 or 1967.
Stephenville’s rise to becoming a state powerhouse yielded a win streak for the Jackets from 1999-2002 and 2004-2009 (no meeting in either 2006 or 2007).
And, of course, each school’s sterling record over the years has helped make the rivalry even more special. The Yellow Jackets have earned five state championships and the Lions have won seven.
Copeland said that Brownwood’s double-overtime 42-39 triumph over the Jackets in 1996 is the one game he remembers the most during his involvement — which spanned a total of 41 years.
“I just remember it was back and forth,” Copeland said of the loss. “It was just a really good football game between two good football teams.”
Copeland described the feeling of losing that hard-fought contest by saying, “You were sick. They were going to be district champions. We knew we were the better football team.”
Former SHS assistant coach Randall Edwards, who coached here from 1990 through 2007, remembered that double overtime clash as part of the ongoing tradition in the rivalry and said it was a “crazy” game.
“It’s two great schools with great traditions and fan bases that love their school and love their sport,” said Edwards, who coached at Lake Travis after leaving Stephenville in 2007, but retired from coaching three years ago and returned here and now is a substitute teacher at the high school. “That was probably pretty exciting (for the fans). It was a great game, and our kids competed.”
Edwards said the Yellow Jackets may have been helped in some ways by that loss to Brownwood, which was one week after a 14-7 district loss to Weatherford. In the playoffs Stephenville went on to knock off three consecutive unbeaten teams — Arlington Heights (23-14), Saginaw Boswell (27-20) and Sweetwater (27-20) — before being eliminated by Denison in the state quarterfinals, 27-16.
“It probably made us better,” Edwards said of the Brownwood loss. “ Early on (that season) we weren’t a very good football team.”
Edwards said that he came to know some of the Brownwood coaches, and noted that there was a mutual respect between them.
“I think it was respect because they worked as hard as we did,” Edwards said. “When you went on the field, you knew you were going to get their best.”
The Jackets finished with an 8-5 record in 1996, which was the worst winning percentage during the Art Briles coaching era (1990-1999). Just two years later, Briles led the Jackets to the first season of his second back-to-back state championship years (1998-1999). Briles also led the Jackets to state titles in 1993 and 1994.
That 1996 Stephenville-Brownwood matchup featured Colby Freeman, a four-year starter for the Lions who later went on to Texas A&M before transferring to Abilene Christian University, and running back Audie Mitchell, who gained more than 300 yards that night.
That Brownwood team was guided by legendary former high school coach W.T. Stapler — who had hired Briles as one of his assistant coaches in 1980 when he took the head coaching position at Sweetwater.
More notably for fans of the Yellow Jackets, the 1996 season was also the first football campaign for quarterback Kelan Luker and receiver Cody Cardwell.
Luker became the school’s all-time leader in pass yardage with 8,297 from 1996-1998, and in career touchdown passes thrown with 78. Luker also holds the SHS marks for passing yards in a season (4,697 in 1998).
Cardwell caught a school-record 48 touchdown passes playing from 1996-1998. He also owns the SHS records for receiving yards in a career (4,241), in a season (2,427 in 1998) and in a single game (292 vs. Southlake Carroll in 1998).
Easton Jones, who was a three-year starter for the Jackets and helped lead the team to a 28-21 win over the Lions last year on the way to earning the district title, finished his career as the second-leading passer all-time in SHS history, with 7,885 yards from 2015-2017.
That was one step along the way to the state semifinals last season, when the Jackets finished with a 12-3 record.