Monday, November 17, 2008
3 Games, 3 days, 606 miles...
Thursday night started the high school football playoffs in Texas. The playoffs in Texas are sort of a high school version of March madness that lasts six weeks. For those who've never experienced it, there is nothing bigger this time of year than high school football. There are two state champions crowned in each of the five classifications, a big school and small school division. It's pretty odd, but just means more work. Just about all the games are played on a neutral field and our newspaper has a LOT of teams playing the first week.
For me, that means a lot of driving. The first game, on Thursday, was played in Sweetwater, a short 90 mile round trip for a game between Stamford and Winters in a Class A game. Class A is the smallest of the divisions playing 11-man football. The game was played at the Mustang Bowl in Sweetwater, which is probably one of the coolest high school stadiums I've ever been to. It's about 70 years old, a 7,000 seat concrete bowl that can get very loud and they play on artificial turf, like most of the bigger high school stadiums around here.
The game wasn't that close, Stamford scored early and never made it look like they were in trouble. I made a couple of nice images. The first one was a long pass that would have been perfect, I didn't have time to switch cameras so I went ahead shooting really tight with my 400mm and it turned out great, I got a really nice tight shot, that filled the frame and you could see both his eyes real big as the ball falls into his hands (top photo). The only problem was the defender reached in as pulled his arm down to break up the pass. It didn't matter, about three plays later the same kid, Omar Garcia, hurdled a defender into the end zone for a touchdown (above). It also didn't hurt that he ended up scoring three of Stamford's four touchdowns that night.
I had my shot in the second quarter of the game, which did a nice job of keeping my stress level down, I was able to send photos at halftime. Then I spent the rest of the game shooting for the online slideshow. Also, since my photos were already sent, I didn't have to worry about whether I was going to have time to shoot the postgame celebration. It's been a few years since Stamford made the playoffs, let alone win one. So I knew they'd be pretty excited. They didn't let me down (above).
Game two, was on Friday night in Stephenville, a little over 200 miles round trip. Abilene High was supposed to blow away Mansfield High. AHS was ranked #3 in the state going into the game. Well, I guess that's why they actually play the game, b/c nobody bothered to tell Mansfield they were supposed to lose. The game was a pretty big upset. AHS had a chance to win the game when Mansfield missed the PAT on their final touchdown. But an interception ended the game with about 2 minutes left and no timeouts. In a game like this a reaction shot is pretty much the only option to tell the story. And while it may seem like I'm being cruel to the average reader, it is my job to tell the story, so a shot of the team's quarterback upset after the game is the shot to have. That's what we ran, it's not the first time and won't be the last. Despite the phone calls complaining about it (as far as I know, we only received one).
Game three was the longest drive. Lubbock is a little over 300 miles round trip, and was the site of Cooper High School's first Class 4A playoff game. Cooper just dropped down a class and was making the best of things this year. The best thing about this game was it was an afternoon game. So, the light was going to be nice, and since daylight savings time had passed, the later in the afternoon, the better the light got.
The game started out pretty slow, the first quarter was spent with neither team moving the ball too much. Cooper had a decent drive but turned the ball over on downs. At the start of the second quarter our videographer Victor Cristales came up to me and said "I don't have one highlight yet," I laughed and told him I had nothing either and hope it gets better soon. About three plays later, it did. Cooper's Reese Williams took a pass and went for a 60-yard touchdown (above). Not long after that Cooper's Stefphun Hazlett tipped and bobbled and interception that he held on to and ran in for a touchdown (below). My spot behind the end zone allowed me to be in good position for both shots.
Cooper was another of those teams who hadn't had great success over the last couple of years. In fact, if there was one of the three local teams that was going to lose I would have said it was going to be them. So, when they were up 35-0 with about four minutes left, I traded the long lens for the wide angle and went to hang out in the bench area (one of those nice things about shooting high school football as opposed to college and the NFL). There was a lot of hugging and goofing around. It had been six years since the school won a playoff game. I found cornerback Will Ford and pretty much stuck with him, he was one of the team captains and one of the best players on the team. I guess I picked right, because as time expired Ford led the team out on the field with his hand raised.
Well, despite spending all most as much time in my car as I did covering games the first week of the playoffs went pretty well photo-wise. I was happy with what I got from all three games, which is rare. Hopefully the next 4-5 weeks will work out just as well. The mileage will probably only go up since the teams I cover will start playing teams from towns even farther away. Stay tuned.