Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fort Davis Indians to face Follett Panthers in semifinal state football playoffs Friday [update follows]

LATE UPDATE:
Follett takes Fort Davis down, 64-42.

Fort Davis Indians practice on their home field on Wednesday preparing to face the Follett Panthers tomorrow in Amarillo for a chance to go to state in six-man football

KALP will be streaming the game live [92.7 fm]

The 13-0 Fort Davis Indians have a perfect season going into the semifinal game this Friday night at 7:00 PM in Trent against the 12-2 Follett Panthers. If season scoring statistics for these six-man teams are a predictor of outcome, the final score should favor the Indians, 61-48. The winner will advance to the Division-I finals against the winner of the Strawn-Abbott match-up in Glen Rose.

At least four players on the team play both offense and defense, a fact of life in 6-man football where communities are so small it is sometimes hard to put together a team at all [see video in final section of this article]. Anyone who has played high school football will understand the Herculean physical and mental conditioning required to achieve that level of participation, commitment and team responsibility. And think about this: Fort Davis trains at the altitude of 5050-ft. When they come down out of the mountains to play, they're getting an oxygen charge you couldn't imagine. These guys are tough and they're winners -- each and every one of them -- no matter the outcome of Friday's game or any game. They are West Texas thoroughbreds.

When I was a sophomore safety at Port Neches-Groves High School in Southeast Texas, our coach, the legendary Bum Phillips of Houston Oiler fame, made two guys play both ways against Nederland as punishment because they were caught drinking the weekend prior to the big game, in celebration of the previous Friday night's win. Their tongues were dragging by the second half. Six-man teams do it all. These Indians don't just hang around the fort; they are lean, mean and green!

The Indians are a 1A (6-man) state powerhouse and the Region I, District-8 champions at every level. Most of all, they love the game and maintain a relaxed, confident, fun-loving attitude, thanks to a supportive coaching staff who display the same winning spirit in both sport and in life.

Head coach Lonnie Flippen [pictured at left] is confident going into the semifinal game against Follett but he gives all the credit to the young men, themselves, who have rocketed the team to the top rankings of Texas high school football. It is through their own hard work, love for the game, team spirit, skill and athletic ability that this gifted team has stolen the hearts of West Texans.

Flippen is a bit humble for someone who has put together one of the most explosive offenses in the game, using counter plays, traps, end runs and run-pass option plays that challenge the versatility of six-man defenses. If the safeties play tight, he'll go long. If the defense is aggressive, stunting and bringing linebacker blitzes, he'll throw screens and run draw plays and traps. If the defensive line hangs back and plays a "read defense," he'll spread the field, run right at them and challenge their speed and agility.

He has at least two backs, Adrian Hernandez and Marcus Hartnett who can put together a 350-yard rushing offense on their own. Stacked with stalwart receivers like Jeffrey Alvarado, Joe Ramos, Mark Cauble, Stetson Chandler and the blazing contributions of Hernandez and Hartnett on the fly, the Indians are unstoppable.

Most of all, they have depth. The love of the game among the Indians is evident by the sheer numbers of players waiting in the wings, there to support their compatriots -- "The Twelfth Man," as the Texas Aggies refer to it. In the case of six-man football, it is undoubtedly the spirit of "The Seventh Man" that will insure the legend that is being carried on in Fort Davis today.


If you're going to beat them you're going to have to outscore them. Doing so will have to be done with the permission of linebacker Gerry Aufdengarten. It's not likely you'll get any sympathy from him; even his name strikes fear among every opponent within ten miles of the stadium. He's all over the field and where he ain't, Hernandez, Hartnett, Ramos, Alvarado, Cauble, Chandler and Moore are, carrying tomahawks of their own in the form of interceptions, quarterback sacks, pass break-ups, tackles, assists, recovered fumbles and bad breath. The Indians have one of the stingiest defenses in the league.

Lineman Robert Moore is the bedrock of the entire system. He's there, he's square and you can't move him. His hands are strong and what he can't knock down he grabs. You don't want to date this guy. The match-up between Moore and/or Cauble at center and their Follett rival, the quick and agile noseguard, Jonathan Wells, will be key. If the Indian line can wall-off Wells and keep him from getting to the quarterback, the Indian passing game will go all night. However, if Wells causes problems, the key will be to seal him off and run/pass to the offensive center's back side, something that Moore does with chilling effectiveness.

Of course, they learned it from this guy [pictured at right], defensive coach David Donnell, who played college ball at San Angelo State, a noted defensive powerhouse in it's own right. Donnell jokes that when he puts on his earmuffs he becomes a redneck; but all indications are that he carries the attitude with or without a hat. And his players love him despite it. Bum Phillips used to say that "the best offense is a good defense," and to maintain the proper attitude on the defensive side of the field you have to not shave and wear your shirttail out. It especially helps if you're ugly. Enter Coach Donnell.

David Donnell is the prototypical hypervigilant linebacker in both temperament and intelligence but he hides these assets effectively, masterfully exploiting -- vis-à-vis his devil-may-care persona -- the ancient adage, "never underestimate your opponent." But watch out for "The Shadow." Those who underestimate coach Donnell on the field do so risking their own demise. The man carries the traditions of "The Bum" and he carries them with due diligence and paternal honor, if his players and fellow coaches are to be believed. [Assistant Coach Gerry Gartrell was not available for Wednesday's brief interviews.]

With these winning combinations,
it's hard to predict anything but success for this dedicated and talented team, from its first team senior role models to its youngest freshman walk-on. But the vitality and fortunes of these young people -- the players I met Wednesday on the field in Fort Davis -- will not be limited to a mundane series of football playoff games. These guys carry the spirit of camaraderie and compassion, the spark of health and the love of life. You can see it in their eyes and sense it in their youthful vitality.

______________________________
UPDATE: December 5, 2008 -- For an excellent game day update see Greg Jaklewicz's pre-game analyzes at Amarillo.com. Of course, his reportage is somewhat tendentious, showing favoritism for his region, but so is mine.

Follett has faced tough opponents this season, but perhaps none as challenging as Fort Davis.

The Indians have won all 13 of their games this season and are ranked No. 6 in the sixmanfootball.com poll.

Follett (10-2), ranked No. 10, will try to end that streak tonight on a new, six-man-size artificial turf field in Trent as the teams meet in a Division I semifinal. Strawn, which beat Fort Davis in the 2003 title game, plays unbeaten No. 1 Abbott on the other side of the bracket. Strawn beat Follett, 46-0, in the season opener.

[...snip, snip, snip...]

Coach Lonnie Flippen then provided some levity to the statistically heavy article, making comments about the weather and the treeless high plans upon which they will play this evening. In fact, levity seems to be one of his strengths and he uses it effectively to keep his Indians grounded and relaxed, a team affect that was readily apparent this week on their home playing field.

Jaklewicz continues:
Fort Davis has played at the six-man level since 2002. It did not make the playoffs in 2004 and last year, but made deep runs in 2003 and 2005.

The Indians won their first district championship since 2003. District 8 is a tough one, with No. 7 Garden City a 10-game winner and Rankin finishing at No. 19.

The Indians boast a triple-threat offense in senior Joe Ramos and Adrian Hernandez and junior Marcus Hartnett. All three run the ball and all three pass, said Fort Davis assistant coach Jarime Baethge.

Hernandez has rushed for 2,054 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. He also has the most passing yards (624) and touchdowns (11).

Harnett has 1,218 yards and 20 TDs.

Out of the spread, Stetson Chandler, Jeffrey Alvarado and center Mark Cauble are receiving threats. Alvarado has nine catches for 280 yards and five scores to lead the team.

While Fort Davis can score a lot of points, the Indians have given up little. The Indians allowed more than 35 points once in its first 11 games, while also recording four shutouts and yielding one touchdown in a fifth game, Baethge said.

Vernon Northside fared well before losing to Fort Davis, 64-42, in the quarterfinals. Garden City pushed Fort Davis to the limit in a District 8 game before falling, 63-56.

Hernandez, a linebacker, has 108 tackles and an interception. Gary Aufdengarten, another linebacker, has 104 tackles and two interceptions. In the secondary, Ramos has a team-best five interceptions.

Follet hasn't played poorly on defense. Meadow scored 97 points against Valley but was held to 39 by Follett. Meadow junior Rico Rocha, who had 425 yards against Valley, was held to 115 by Follett.

The Panthers blanked two opponents and gave up one TD in another game. Their other loss was 30-28 to playoff-bound Valley. Follett won three tight games, 55-48 over Northside and 57-46 over Throckmorton, both in the regular season, and 44-39 last week over Meadow.
Game time is at 7:00 PM in Trent (city map), between Sweetwater and Abilene. The winner of tonight's battle will advance to the championship finals against the winner of Abbott vs. Strawn.


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