Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mason High School Wins 2011 Class 1A State Title

MasonState01 MasonState09 What a great way to end a season. Not only for Mason High School, but for me as well. How many photographers get to cover a state championship football game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington? Not many I'm guessing. After a week of running nothing but Mason High School football stories on the front page of the News and Sports sections, it was finally time to cover the much anticipated game on Thursday afternoon. I was pumped for a couple of reasons: 1. I was going to get to shoot at Cowboys Stadium. Even if you don't care for the Dallas Cowboys or even for football in general, anyone would be impressed with the size and beauty of the stadium, and 2. because it was a state title game. We've been building up to this game all week and it was finally just hours away.
Sports writers Mike Whitson and Quinton Martinez and I arrived at the Stadium at about 10:00am, two hours before the game started just so we could get checked in to the stadium, find where we needed to go, get all of our gear in place and cruise the building for a while. Mike and Quinton would be working out of the press box near the top of the building while I would be working out of the photographer's workroom near the field. This stadium is awesome and is arguably one of the coolest buildings I've ever been in. To stand on the field looking up at that enormous video screen hanging from the ceiling is something everyone should experience even if you care nothing for the Dallas Cowboys. MasonState04 MasonState03 MasonState11 From the very get go, the Punchers were ready to play this game. This team was born to play this game on this day against this team. Personally, I think Stamford made the right choice by not letting the Punchers have the ball first. But, unable to move the ball effectively down the field against the Punchers' defense, Stamford punted the ball away five plays later. The first three plays went to Mason superstar David Mora. The fourth play was a quarterback keeper down the right sideline and the series ended with two more hand-offs to Mora for the touchdown to put the Punchers on the scoreboard. Both the defense and offense were on a roll for Mason. The celebration was short lived, however, as it only took 37 seconds and two plays from scrimmage for Stamford to get on the scoreboard with a pass for a touchdown. This game could get interesting.
After receiving the kickoff, Mason took control of the ball and the clock, marching down the field in a systematic manner, eating almost seven minutes off the clock before quarterback Austin Trip ran the ball in from the 1-yard line to put the Punchers back on top 14-7. That would be the score at the end of the first quarter. Mason would go on to score two more touchdowns to Stamford's one in the second quarter to head into the locker room at the half up 28-13. MasonState02 MasonState05The second half of the game was much like the first half, but it wasn't without a few close calls for Mason. The Punchers scored on their first possession making the score 35-13, but yielded 13 more points back to Stamford in about four minutes making the score 35-26. Stamford was now just nine points back from the Punchers and were building steam until a wayward pass was intercepted by Mason defensive back Winston Trip who returned the ball back to Stamford's 17-yard line. Two plays later Mason was knocking on the door of the endzone and at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Mason's David Mora ran the ball in to make the score 42-26.
The rest of the fourth quarter was a clinic on how to execute an offense by Mason. Stamford did manage to score two more touchdowns late in the quarter, but by that time Mason had built a substantial lead and were pretty much coasting with five minutes left in the game. You could almost feel the excitement build in the air as the seconds ticked off the game clock. After all the hard work put in by the coaches and players and all the support given by the fans, the Mason Punchers would complete the season a perfect 15-0 winning the Class 1A, Division I State Championship 62-40. This would be the first football championship for the school. MasonState10 MasonState08 MasonState12 The roof of Cowboys Stadium nearly lifted off from the explosion of cheers from the stands and the sideline. High-fives and hugs were given, tears shed and wiped away. It was an awesome moment, one that I don't get to experience very often. But, it can also be a stressful moment because of all the activity happening on the field. I want to make sure to capture as much of the jubilation as possible. Obviously, David Mora was named the game offensive MVP finishing with 5 touchdowns and over 250 yards rushing. But the real surprise for me was who was picked as the defensive MVP. The athlete picked was defensive back Chance Stockbridge. I thought for sure it was going to be Korey Zavala. Stockbridge finished the game with nine tackles and an interception returned 46 yards for a touchdown. This team was very deserving of the state title and I was happy to have been a witness to their triumph. Go Punchers! MasonState07 MasonState06

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mason Heads to State

MasonTrip03 Sports writer Mike Whitson and I headed down to Mason High School, about 100 miles southeast of San Angelo, to cover the last pep rally for the football team as they prepare to head to Arlington to play in the Class 1A Division I State Championship at Cowboys Stadium. It takes about two hours to get there, so we had planned to leave sometime around 7:30am to get there 30 minutes before the thing started. As usual, I forgot a few things at the house, couldn't find some other gear that I needed and just didn't want to be up that early. We arrived with just five minutes to spare.
Let's see, I graduated high school in 1998 which means I haven't been to a high school pep rally since the fall of 1997. I still have very clear memories of hos my high school pep rallies would go and things have not changed much. The team walked in as the fight song was played, the cheerleaders started their routines with the drum line keeping time, then there are speakers, a special dance routine, a song by the band, the school song and then the players would leave as the fight song was played. It was like Mason took the playbook from my high school pep rally and called it their own. It was a blast. MasonTrip04 MasonTrip02 Man, I hope these guys win on Thursday. I understand it not professional of me to say something like that. As a journalist, I am not supposed to have an opinion either way, but this is a personal blog and I'm going to say what I want. The Mason players are some of the most down to earth guys you'll ever meet. To look at them on the street and not in their football uniforms, you would never guess that this group of cutups was going to compete for a state championship. But they are. And they're not just competing for a state title on some random field. Oh no. They will be playing on the mother of all fields... Cowboys Stadium. (That's hard for me to say because the mecca of football fields for me is FedEx Field in Landover, MD) How cool is that?
We were working on a story for the Thursday front page so we needed to get a few more photos of the players loading up their gear and hopefully of parents and fans standing outside cheering them on the rented charter buses pulled out of town. I think the general idea, as it was explained to me, was to follow the team's buses from Mason to Arlington, taking pictures as we went of the raucous team supporters as they drove behind. If they stopped, we stopped. Come to find out, after talking with one of the player's mom, that most of the fans were going to leave early Thursday morning on charter buses that had been rented. I did manage to get a few shots of parents waving to the buses and holding signs as they pulled out of town, but that was it. It was fine. I'll just double up on fan photos on Thursday at the game. MasonTrip01

Sunday, December 11, 2011

H.S. Football Playoffs Week 5: Mason vs. Garrison

Mason01 Well, it's happened. All season long I wondered what it would be like to shoot in a professional stadium and on Thursday of this week, I'll know. Mason High School played Garrison last Friday night at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco. After rolling over previous playoff opponents this season, Mason continued their domination on the field defeating Garrison 46-14 to advance to the Class 1A Div. 1 state championship game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington against Stamford. This is going to be cool.
I have to admit that heading into this particular game I was a bit nervous, not so much for the Punchers (yes, Mason's mascot is the Punchers, and no, their girls teams are not the Lady Punchers, they are the Cowgirls) but for myself and the number of future stories I was potentially shooting for if in fact Mason did win the game and advance to the state title game. Before heading out to Waco, sports writers Mike Whitson and Quinton Martinez, editors Tim Archuleta, Jack Cowan, LaKeith Kennedy and myself, all sat down for a last minute rundown of stories we would run the following week if they won. Mason High School, in a town just over 100 miles away from San Angelo, is going to grace the front page of the A-Section and the Sports Section every day if they win. And I was going to be the only photographer supplying the photos. Goody.
But, I as I drove the 200+ miles to Waco I had to reassure myself that almost all of the photos were going to come from the field. I wasn't going to sweat it. Mason06 Mason03 Most of the teams in the playoffs that I have covered were unknowns to me. I was shooting mostly Central High School games during the regular season, then I left the country for Cambodia for a few weeks, then went back to shooting Central to finish out the regular season and into the playoffs until they were knocked out. I really didn't know anything about most of the other teams I shot because I didn't shoot them during the regular season and Mason was no different. The only thing I knew about Friday's game was that Mason was favored to win it. Thank goodness for that, because I was getting tired of shooting crying football players each week.
The game started off in an exciting fashion when Mason's Rio Schmidt's opening kick bounced off a Garrison player into the waiting arms of a Mason player. Several plays later the Punchers were first on the scoreboard with a 12-yard pass from Austin Trip to Jake Newsom. The rest of the first half was a back-and-forth game of wills ending with Mason on top 14-6 at the half. Mason04 Mason02 Then in the second half, Mason turned up the heat on Garrison scoring another 32 points, which included three touchdowns in the third quarter. Garrison just didn't have an answer for the exploding Mason offense. Throw in a few interceptions and big stands on defense, and the Punchers were headed to the state championship. It was awesome. This will be just the second time in my eight years at the Standard-Times that I will have the chance to shoot an 11-man state title game. I'm really excited about this because the state game will be played at Cowboys Stadium and Mason, I think, has a real chance of winning this thing. If you want to read Mike Whitson's game story you can find it HERE and for a few more of my photos, go HERE.
Watching these kids, their coaches and the fans celebrate this happy moment was pretty cool. Mason has 17 seniors on their roster this year and I bet for most of them this is going to be the last time they put on their pads. What better way to finish out your high school football career than to have a chance to play in the state championship game in the biggest stadium in the country. The state game is going to be held at noon on Thursday so they will be traveling to Arlington on Wednesday. I think we are devising a plan to travel with them when they leave. This is going to be cool, and I'm excited about the opportunity to shoot such an important event. Mason05

Monday, December 5, 2011

H.S. Football Playoffs Week 4: Sonora vs. Refugio

SonoraFootball05 First, lets get a technical issue out of the way first before we get into this post. For what ever reason, the 'g' in Refugio is pronounced with the 'r' sound. So it sounds like you're saying Refurio. I have no idea where this came from or why people pronounce it that way, but I do know people from there get pissed when you say the name of the town wrong. But for some reason, I can't help but think that the townspeople are saying their own town's name wrong on purpose just so they can jack with outsiders.
Anyway, it was off to San Antonio with writer Mike Whitson last Friday to cover some 2A football as the Sonora Broncos played the Bobcats of Refugio for the state quartefianl title. This was a battle of the unbeaten with both teams sporting 12-0 records. Sonora was ranked in the top five of the state while Refugio was the number one team. Another cool facet to the story is that the head coach of Refugio, Jason Herring, was head coach at Sonora for nine seasons, including their 2000 state championship. SonoraFootball04The Sonora players knew they were going to have their hands full as they tried to contain Refugio's explosive offense. Refugio has won all 12 of their games by an average of more than 54 points, receiving some unwanted national attention. Basically, people are pissed that Refugio runs up the score on teams that they are beating handily. Jason Herring said that he has even received death threats from people who don't like his style of play. Refugio beat one team 91-6! And this is 11-man football, not six-man.
Herring has been at the helm of Refugio for five seasons and has only lost four games, boasting a stunning 65-4 record heading into Friday's game. But even with such a dominating record, Herring and the Bobcats have yet to win a state championship, losing late in the playoffs each year. In the past, Herring has only allowed his starters to play the first half of every game so as not to humiliate the opposing team. But because his starters only have experience playing the first half of every game, he feels that's been the reason why they end up losing late in the playoffs every year. So this year he committed to playing his starters full bore for three full quarters, and if at the end of those three quarters they were ahead by 50 points or more, so be it. The sports writer on the story, Mike Whitson, wrote a great pregame story if you want to read more about it HERE. SonoraFootball03 I love football. I love everything about it. Eleven-man, six-man, arena, Canadian and European, I even love flag football! Everyone has an opinion about how the game (and that's exactly what it is, a game) should be played and this one is mine: Play the game as hard as you can until the clock runs out. Don't hold your best players back so the other team can save face and don't complain if you're getting the crap beat out of you. That's pathetic.
"But Patrick, don't you think a team should show some sportsmanship and mercy and not humiliate the other team by running them into the ground?" What the... what!? Sportsmanship is about going out there and leaving your guts on the field. Sportsmanship is about holding your head up high what ever the outcome of the game might be. Sportsmanship is about meeting your opponent at midfield after the fact and shaking their hand saying, "Good job, good luck and see you next year." We don't need to coddle high school football players. They will be just fine even if they play on a team that gets beat 91-6. Lets not forget that this is just high school football. It's not the end all, be all of everything. I sympathize with Jason Herring and his decision to play his starters and to field the backlash because of it. Its his team to lead. Sonorafootball01 Okay, back to the game. As you can probably tell from the above photo, Sonora lost. But if there was going to be a team to beat Refugio, it was going to be Sonora. As stated before, Refugio has a very powerful offense but Sonora ran their defense almost perfectly in the first half. The two touchdowns Refugio scored came off of defensive plays. The score was 14-6 at the half. But once the second half started Sonora's level of play dwindled. Refugio scored four more times in the second half to put the game out of reach for the Broncos. If you would like to read Mike Whitson's game story you can find it HERE.
After last Friday, we have just one team left in the playoff hunt. Mason High School, a Class 1A school, is burning up the competition so I will be heading to Waco this Friday to cover their state semifinal game against Garrison. I hope that Mason wins this game for two reasons because (1) I'm tired of shooting crying football players and (2) if they win this next game they will be playing for the state championship at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. That should be pretty cool! SonoraFootball02