By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (November 25, 2014) — As a seventh year head coach, Joe Gillespie has directed Stephenville to five district championships, six area titles, two regional crowns and a state title. But never has he won a playoff rematch against a team his Yellow Jackets faced in the regular season.
Of course, Gillespie is never one to shy away from a challenge.
“This is the exactly the matchup I wanted. I wanted this game and we’re excited about it,” said Gillespie Tuesday morning in anticpation of Stephenville’s 4A Division I regional round playoff against Big Spring at 2 p.m. Friday at Abilene’s Shotwell Stadium. “There are a lot of things about this matchup that I like, and as coaches we like that the kids have a chip on their shoulder going into the game.”
The chip is certainly there, and it only adds to the fire typical of a third-round state playoff.
“Obviously I’m not a huge fan of rematches, we all know how many times we saw Aledo in a short span of time. But there is something special there,” Gillespie said. “You see it in the NFL all the time, where some teams in the same division might even play twice in three or four weeks, and the rivalries that come from that. So this is special. We just played a month ago, and here we are again. It’s an opportunity to go out and play Yellow Jacket football and set the record straight between us and a team that we’ve played a couple very tight ball games against the last two years.
Stephenville and Big Spring also met in the third round of last season’s playoffs, and an epic battle ensued. The Yellow Jackets drove the length of the field in the final half minute to score the winning touchdown, then intercepted a lateral on the ensuing kickoff and housed the return for a 47-36 victory. The game was dubbed the 3A Game of the Year by Texas Football Magazine.
On Oct. 24 of this season, Big Spring avenged that defeat. Anthony Chavarria passed for six touchdowns after Under Armour All-American Jarrett Stidham suffered a broken hand, but it wasn’t enough in a 64-57 loss to the Steers. Big Spring running back Hunter Hill rushed for six touchdowns in the 3-4A Division I contest.
“There’s a lot of history there in just two games,” Gillespie said. “Things like that make a matchup intriguing for the fans and the communities and they make it fun for the kids. There’s not a lot of difference between the two teams, so it makes sense that we could have another great game.”
Big Spring dealt with a rematch last week, eliminating Andrews 48-35 after losing 43-42 to the Mustangs before district began.
“That rematch was a lot like the ones we were in with Aledo from the standpoint that they played very early in the year and then met in the playoffs,” Gillespie said. “The timing of this is more like it was with us and Everman (in 2008) when we played a district game, then a few weeks later we’re on the field together in the playoffs.”
Interestingly, the 121 combined points from the first meeting this fall between these teams is just the third most in a game involving Stephenville this fall. The Yellow Jackets beat Decatur 66-64 in four overtimes two weeks ago, and won their sixth area championship under Gillespie in a 69-60 thriller against Lubbock Estacado last week.
Those dramatic wins set up the cardiac Jackets to practice and play in Thanksgiving week for the sixth time under their charismatic head coach.
“To me, there’s only one practice better than Thanksgiving Day and that’s the last practice before the state championship,” Gillespie said.
The Thanksgiving Day practice came and went bright and early Thursday morning. With Big Spring up Friday and possibly Abilene Wylie in next week’s quarterfinal round, practicing before a state championship requires the Jackets to give Gillespie his first, and perhaps second, rematch victories.
“There aren’t any bad teams left out there, it’s all good on good at this point,” Gillespie said. “Anyone we play at this point is going to have a great team, and that’s the way it should be. When you’re in Stephenville, you learn to expect that. It just happens that two of those really good teams still alive are teams from our district.”