The Lone Star State is home to hundreds of big high school football games every Friday this time of the year. This week, none are bigger than this.
No. 2 Stephenville visits No. 6 Aledo at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Bearcat Stadium. Besides the state rankings, both are undefeated at 3-0.
Oh yeah, and there's that whole district-opening thing thrown into the mix.
The contest serves as the District 8-4A opener for both schools.
“The winner of this game will obviously take a big step in the quest for a district title,” Stephenville Head Coach Chad Morris said. “It's bigger than the rider game because it's the only game this week, and the only one we can control. And it's a district game.”
Media outlets around the region certainly think it's a big game. In addition to the widespread newspaper hype and the usual radio coverage, CBS-owned KTXA/Channel 21 will televise a delayed recording of the game from 11 p.m.-2 a.m. as its High School Edge Game of the Week.
The history certainly warrants the hype.
“It's been nip and tuck against them for a couple years,” Morris said.
On Sept. 29 last fall, Kody Spano dialed up a game-winning connection with Hunter Hendershot for a 44-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left. Stephenville won, 28-24. The Yellow Jackets took a 21-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. Aledo, gaining a boost from SHS turnovers, came storming back with 24 consecutive second-half points to set the stage for the late heroics.
In 2005, the Jackets outscored Aledo 27-0 in the second quarter to overcome an early 13-7 deficit on their way to 41-27 win.
The 2004 contest lasted two days, thanks to lightning delay at Tarleton Memorial Stadium in Stephenville. Jevan Snead plunged into the end zone from two yards out to give SHS the 38-35 win.
The rankings justify the hype, as well.
Both schools moved up one spot in the Associated Press Class 4A football poll this week. Stephenville filled the No. 2 spot vacated by Waco, while Aledo stepped up to No. 6. Those are the highest respective rankings for both schools this fall. District 8-4A is one of only two districts in the state to have more than one school in the top 10. Copperas Cove, No. 1 in the poll, No. 7 Waco and No. 8 Brownwood give District 16-4A three ranked teams.
The talent only adds to the hype.
Both schools feature marquee playmakers. It begins at quarterback, where Stephenville has Kody Spano, who has already committed to Oklahoma State. Aledo answers back with multi-dimensional two-way star Cole Loftin.
“Everyone seems to talk about Kole Loftin this and Kole Loftin that,” Morris said. “He's a great player. They like to move him all around, and they want to get the ball to him.”
Joining Loftin as offensive playmakers are the strong-running Austin Stockton and the versatile Ryan McGuire.
Stephenville features similar talent alongside Spano. Brad Mills has already scored eight touchdowns and Chris Malone and Josh Graves has developed into a formidable force in the receiving core. Trey Taylor has also made plays both running and catching the ball for the Jackets.
Defensively, the Jackets have the likes of T.R. Varnado up front and Cody Wood at linebacker. Aledo returns all three of last year's linebackers in Calvin Jones, Kyle Stitle and Tanner McDonald.
The defensive backfields will feature two of the best defenders in the state. Stephenville has Cody Davis, who committed early to Texas Tech, while Aledo is armed with Kenton Day, who has returned three of his four interceptions for touchdowns this fall.
Another big battle looms in the trenches. Stephenville's offensive line has dominated the line of scrimmage in all three games this fall. While the Jackets are big up front, they may not look that way next the gigantic line of Aledo.
“I didn't think you could get any bigger than they were last year,” Morris said, “but they are bigger this year.”
The history, the rankings and the talent blend nicely together in a recipe that has produced an unprecedented level of hype for a regular season game at either school.
If the battle is anything like those of past years, another fall classic could be in the making.
Brad Keith is the sports editor of the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at (254) 965-3124, ext. 241, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.