Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Friday Night Football Week 3: Ozona vs. Grape Creek

OzonaGrapeCreek03 Once again I was put back on Game of the Week coverage and this time I was headed to Ozona, about 80 miles southwest of San Angelo, to cover the Lions taking on the Eagles of Grape Creek. I hadn't been to Ozona for an assignment in quite some time so I was excited about the opportunity to get back.Ozona has been on top of their game this year so far so I was hoping for a great match-up. But every so often the idea we have about how we think the game will turn out sometimes does not match up with reality.

While Ozona was doing well, most of the plays were happening on the opposite side of the field. And just when it looked like the play was coming my way, it would abruptly change directions. Not to mention that the game was pretty one-sided with Ozona dominating both sides of the ball. Grape Creek was having a hard time putting up much of a fight.

OzonaGrapeCreek06 OzonaGrapeCreek05 OzonaGrapeCreek04 Three consecutive turnovers by Grape Creek in the first quarter put them in a hole from which they could not recover. The first turnover was a high snap over the Eagles' punter giving Ozona the ball on the 14-yard line, the second was a fumble recovered by Ozona on the 25-yard line and the third was an interception. Halfway through the first quarter Ozona was up 20-0. Ozona went on to win the game 55-14.

My night was going about as good as Grape Creek's. It seemed like every position I chose on the field was the wrong one to get any decent shots of what was happening in the game. On top of that, I was going to have to leave the field at halftime because I was not able to secure an internet connection in the press box due to a certain kind of block or security wall on the school's internet. I was going to have to drive through town to the Sonic and use their open wi-fi connection to transmit photos to the office. But, you know, it wouldn't be as exciting if there were not those little challenges to deal with. It might get down right boring if I never had to look for an internet connection or if all the great plays in a game happened right in front of me.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Angelo State Under the Lights of Cowboys Stadium

ASUvsValdosta03 After about six hours of sleep in Weatherford, sports editor Paul Harris and I made our way to Arlington and Cowboys Stadium. This would be the second time I have covered a game here as I had the opportunity to cover the Class 1-A Division I state championship between Mason and Stamford here last December. This building never ceases to amaze me. Just the size of this place is jaw-dropping even if you're not a Cowboys fan.

Our local college, Angelo State University, was participating in the Lone Star Football Festival and would be playing in the first game of the afternoon against No. 18 Valdosta State form Georgia. Obviously there were more ASU fans there but there was a nice little rowdy group there to support Valdosta. The Rams came into this game with a 1-1 record looking to give a good showing.

After checking in at the media gate and picking up our credentials, Paul Harris made his way to the press box while I headed down to the field to the photographers workroom. I remembered from the last time that I would be making quite a hike as the workroom was located on the opposite side of the stadium. Every time I have to make a long walk with all my gear I realize just how desperately I need to invest in a rolling camera bag. For an assignment like this I use a Think Tank camera backpack that I can put all my lenses, camera bodies, laptop and all the other little odds and ends in, but, boy does it get heavy.

ASUvsValdosta02 ASUvsValdosta05 ASUvsValdosta06 After getting a bite to eat and re-hydrating myself after sweating buckets from carrying all that gear, I positioned myself at the south end of the field for the opening kickoff. The Rams seemed to be able to move the ball efficiently but failed to make it into the end zone. They had to settle for a field goal taking the early lead 3-0.Valdosta State then went on a 17-0 run and had a comfortable lead heading into halftime.

This particular game started at noon so I didn't have to worry about deadline pressure. It's not very often that I just get to relax during halftime, maybe grab something cold to drink, use the facilities and just rest my legs from hauling gear up and down the field. Normally I'm in a rush to get my laptop out, furiously editing through my photos, cropping, captioning and transmitting them back to the office.

When the second half started ASU had some ground to make up. Early in the third quarter Angelo State quarterback Josh Hamblin found receiver C.J. Akins in the end zone to bring the Rams within a touchdown of tying the game. This was the third touchdown pass Akins has caught this season. ASU then forced Valdosta into a punting situation, but to the surprise of everyone in the stadium, Valdosta picked up 39 yards on a fake punt and set themselves up for a field goal to go ahead 20-10. The rest of the game went down hill for the Rams after that point. With a series of miscues on ASU's part and intense play by Valdosta, the Rams lost the game 43-10. Regardless of where the game is played, be it Cowboys Stadium or in a cotton field near Veribest, you always want to see the home team win. It was a tough loss for the Rams, but I was glad to be back in Arlington at Cowboys Stadium.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Friday Night Football Week 2: Irion County vs. Gorman

IrionCo03 Okay, so now we get to the actual Friday night game and the second football game on the docket for the week, Irion County versus Gorman.We picked to cover this game for two reasons: 1. Irion County was 2-0 heading into the contest and, 2. because it was the game farthest east we could find, getting us as close as possible to Dallas/Ft Worth for the third game of the week at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

In the Sports section of the Standard-Times each Friday we run a pick-it line where several members of the newsroom staff go down a list of selected high school, college and professional football games that will be played that weekend and we each decide who will be the victor of each contest.At the end of the season whoever has the best record wins a trophy that you get to proudly display on your desk for the entire year. Some staff members, like the sports staff and my editor, comb through previous game statistics on every team before making their decisions and submitting their picks. I, on the other hand, just go with my gut, a more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of method. Needless to say, I'm in dead last three weeks into the season. But, I had a good feeling about the Irion County so I picked them to win.

IrionCo05 IrionCo04 IrionCo06On this evening, Gorman came to play, still winless for the season. The first quarter went scoreless, but in the second, a high snap sailed over the head of Irion County's punter and Gorman found themselves in prime position to score with the ball on the 5-yard line. A Gorman quarterback sneak and point-after-attempt a few plays later made the score 7-0 heading into halftime. Matters were made worse for Irion County when their primary running back, Dantae Harris, was knocked out of the game late in the first quarter with what appeared to be a concussion. He would not return to the game.

Penalties and the inability to break through the Gorman defense plagued Irion County all night. On the opening kickoff of the second half a personal foul called on the Hornets gave Gorman the ball at midfield. Seven plays later Gorman scored again to go up 14-0. There was one bright spot for the Hornets when Logan McGee went 53-yards to pay dirt, but alas, the score was called back due to an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Hornets. And as if Irion County wasn't feeling low enough, Gorman intercepted a pass and ran it back 62-yards for a touchdown making the score 21-0. It was a tough loss for the Hornets.

IrionCo07 IrionCo02 After the game and all the photos and the story was sent back to the office, sports editor Paul Harris and I left for Weatherford were we would spend the night.Our local college, Angelo State University, was going to be participating in the Lone Star Football Festival at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. I've been to Cowboys Stadium once before, last year while covering a game between Mason and Stamford for the Class 1-A Division I state championship in December. I was very excited about getting another opportunity to work in one of the most spectacular stadiums in the country.


Friday, September 14, 2012

(Almost) Friday Night Football Week 2: Central vs. Coronado

CentralvCoronado01 This week I will get to shoot three separate football games and it started Thursday night with a home game between our largest school that we cover, Central High School, in a District 2-5A game against Lubbock Coronado. Last year I covered every home game that Central played so I got to know the team and it's players pretty well. But because of a mass exodus of seniors, this year's team was pretty brand new. Central was again put back into a large district consisting of eight teams after the February realignment. That means instead of getting at least three or four games under their belt before playing games that mattered, Central would only get to play two non-district games before taking on their first district foe which, in this case, was Lubbock Coronado.

Central has looked pretty good this year so far heading into Thursday night's game with a record of 1-1. They lost their first game against El Paso Franklin by the slimmest of margins, 41-40, and won their second game handily against a team from California, Scotts Valley, 40-7. So hopes were high heading into Thursday's game as district play began.

CentralvCoronado02 CentralvCoronado04 CentralvCoronado05 The weather had turned kind of ugly early Thursday morning bringing much needed rain to the area, but it also brought our first taste of fall with temperatures only getting into the mid-70s. The rain was supposed to continue through the day calling for a 70 percent chance of rain at game time. I have to admit, shooting in the rain can be quite a hassle. There is always the fear of your gear malfunctioning or breaking down completely due to moisture, but as the kickoff approached the rain subsided leaving us with overcast skies and a cool breeze out of the north.

Coronado would receive the ball on the opening kickoff and looked like they had a solid passing game going 57 yards in 16 plays on the opening drive. But Central's defense held strong on their end of the field and Coronado had to settle for a 31-yard field goal going up 3-0 halfway through the first quarter. Central, determined not to let Coronado get a foothold, scored on their opening drive in just under three minutes of possession going up 7-3. Two plays into Coronado's next set of downs Central recovered a fumble near midfield and scored again on the following play when quarterback Mickey Scott connected with Nick Barron on a 52-yard play up the middle of the field. The Bobcats were now up 14-3. At the half, Central headed to the locker room with a 21-10 lead.

The game went back and forth during the second half with both defenses making strong stands, along with penalties and turnovers, to keep the scoring at bay. Central scored early in the third quarter to go up 28-10 on a 1-yard dive by Mickey Scott. Coronado tried to make a comeback halfway through the fourth quarter scoring on a 15-yard pass. Coronado then recovered a fumble, but two plays later turned the ball back over to Central to end their comeback push. Central won the game 28-17 to go 1-0 in District 2-5A play. It was a fun game to watch and I wish the best of luck to the Central Bobcats on the rest of their season.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Friday Night Football Week 1: Water Valley vs. Klondike

WaterValley02 So tonight was an abbreviated night of football for me. My boss had to be out of town this weekend and was going to miss all the craziness in the newsroom that comes with Friday football. So, being the senior photographer, I was left in charge of all the visuals for both the paper and the website. We hold about a dozen football-related meetings during the week and it was left up to me to decide if I was going to shoot a game or just stay in the office and catch photos as they filter into the system. How could I say no to shooting a game? Of course I was going to shoot a game! But it would have to be a game close to home because I would need to leave at halftime and drive back to the office to fulfill my editor duties.

I decided on a six-man game being played just 20 miles up the road in Water Valley as the Wildcats took on Klondike. I felt like if I didn't shoot a game our photo coverage would be lacking and at least we could get one more gallery up on the website. I also chose this game because I thought it would be over at halftime. For those of you who don't know anything about six-man football, if a team is ahead by 45 or more points at the half the mercy rule goes into effect and the game is over. Water Valley is a pretty strong team and I honestly thought there was no way the game was going to go on longer than the first half.

WaterValley03 WaterValley01 WaterValley04 Like with all the other games I cover, I got to the field about an hour to 45 minutes ahead of the kickoff to get feature shots to submit to the photo page and other various spots in the paper, but much to my surprise, the place was dead. There was almost no action going on at the field and there wouldn't be until about 15 minutes before the game started. I always start to panic when I don't have at least five usable photos before the teams make their way to the field. Tonight, I only had one. It also didn't help that I was worried about making all our deadline times when I got back to the office. But when the opening kickoff goes sailing through the air, it's easy to get in the zone of just shooting the game.

Right from the start it looked like Klondike was going to have their hands full. In recent years Water Valley has become a very good six-man team and it's easy to bet on them for most of the games they play. I don't think Klondike even made it in to Water Valley territory the entire first quarter. By the middle of the second quarter Water Valley was up 40-0. I overheard one of the Klondike players screaming at the rest of the team, "Do you want to go home early? We better get our act together!" Eventually, Klondike made a few key plays and managed to score two touchdowns late in the second quarter. As time expired on the first half Water Valley was leading 48-12. Thus ended my second game of the season. I had to get back to the office to fill in as photo editor. Water Valley notched another win with a final score of 62-12.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

S.A.S.S. Hosts Roller Derby Round-Robin

SASS09 Man, several Saturdays ago was probably the longest day of roller derby I have ever experienced. The San Angelo Soul Sisters hosted two other teams, the Abilene Derby Dames and the North Texas Derby Revolution, in a round-robin at the Foster Communications Coliseum in San Angelo. What a blast! Originally, there were supposed to be two more teams, one from Hobbs, New Mexico and one from Stephenville, but for what ever reason they had to drop out, but that didn't mean the action was any less exciting. There were also live bands playing on stage during the intermission between bouts.

SASS04 SASS02 SASS08 The first bout of the evening was between the Soul Sisters and the North Texas Derby Revolution. This would be the first time that SASS has competed against this team so excitement was high to see what these ladies had to offer in terms of competition. Another aspect of the evening's bouts was that everyone was looking forward to the fact that there was going to be a mix of referees from the various teams rather than having officials from just one league. I don't envy roller derby referees one bit. With all the rules, regulations and penalties that they have to know, it can be mind-boggling. Plus, with having referees from different cities, it reduces the possibility of home-town favoritism.

As with playing any team for the first time, it can mostly be about trying to figure out what their style of play is like, how quickly do they get on and off the track between jams and what kind of blocking scheme they use in certain situations. Denton was good... really good. They were quick to get back on the track after a jam was finished, their jammers were quick-footed in the pack and knew how to manage the clock. But SASS, now in their second year of being an organized derby league, gave just as good as they got. Each time I witness these ladies on the track I'm impressed with how much they have developed their skills. It's such an awesome sight to see when plays they work on in practice are put to use, and are successful, on the track in an actual bout.

SASS14 SASS06 SASS07 SASS13 After the first bout there was a twenty-minute break for the ladies to catch their breath and hydrate. SASS would be playing again but this time against the Abilene Derby Dames. The last time I saw the Derby Dames in action was last year in Abilene. It was my wife's first ever bout. That bout was fun to watch even with Brooke suffering a minor concussion and essentially blacking out on the track... in front of my 80-year-old grandparents. No one in my family has ever come back to watch Brooke compete again.

Like I said before, SASS has gotten so much better over the last year and the bout with Abilene this time showed that. Also, with Brooke acting as a primary jammer for the last few months, she was much more confident in her abilities as a skater. She looked like a completely different person out there as did the rest of the team. Sylvia "Hep Cat" Thompson, Martha "Luv Lee Rage" Taylor, Kagan "Teddy Bruisevelt" Box and Kerstyn "K-Razy" Heard have honed their skills to become very efficient blockers. Megan "Salty Wench" Cordes and Laura "Spank-N-Bury" Hardy did a great job of communicating plays on the track as the pivots and a big round of applause goes out Sarah "Razz-Berry Jam" Chappa, Sabrina "Punk Brock" Brock, Shelby "Rexxx" Feathers, Jesse "Betty Bowtie" Natividad and Amanda "Double AA" Atchison who were all playing in either in their first or second full-fledged bout, or in Rexxx and Bowtie's case, returning to the track after an extended absence. Welcome back Rexxx and Bowtie.

SASS18 SASS28 SASS23 SASS11 After the first three bouts of the evening everyone was pretty much exhausted. There were a few injuries during the first three bouts, the more serious one was when a player from the Derby Dames fell awkwardly on her foot, was taken to the hospital and found out she broke her ankle. There was supposed to be another full-length bout with all-star players from all three teams mashed up to make the two teams, but by the time that rolled around it was pretty much agreed upon that only one half of the bout was going to be played.

My wife Brooke (ya'll should know that by now) suffered an injury to her hand in the very first bout against Denton. She ended up severely jamming her two middle fingers on her left hand and about halfway through the all-star bout she injured the same fingers and they started to turn blue. As I'm finishing up this blog post, almost a month after the round-robin took place, she is still unable to put her wedding ring on. I've been laying down swift justice on all would-be suitors.

After an action-packed summer of bouts, the Soul Sisters will not be participating in any bouts during the month of September. However, they will be back in action in October in a bout in Del Rio against a newly formed league on Oct. 6 and then will finish their season in a home bout against Wichta Falls in San Angelo on Oct. 13. The season is winding down so if you haven't seen these ladies in action, be sure catch them before the off-season begins!


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Friday Night Football Week 0: Mason vs. Winters

MasonWinters06 And so it begins...

Friday night marked the beginning of the 2012 high school football season. I was assigned, much to my surprise, to head down to Mason, a small town about 100 miles southeast of San Angelo, to cover the Punchers' season opening game against Winters. Our largest school, Central High School, was playing in town this evening and I usually get assigned their home games, but I guess my editor wanted change things up. Mason was coming off a fantastic 15-0 2011 season that ended with the school's first-ever state championship. I had the opportunity to cover last year's state game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington which was by far the coolest building I've ever shot football in. Today's game was touted as the Standard-Times Game of the Week and we were hoping that it would be a good one. It wasn't.

Mason, who lost almost every starting player from last year's roster, came out rolling as if they never stopped playing with last year's intensity. As the clock ticked down to zero to end the first half, Mason was up 43-0 over visiting Winters, led by running back Rio Schmidt, who by game's end, totaled 202 of the Punchers' 481 yards on the ground, and scored four touchdowns. It was grotesque. But, if I had to choose a game to start the 2012 season, this would have been the one.

MasonWinters02 MasonWinters03 MasonWinters01 I remember starting last year's coverage a little underwhelmed and not really in the Friday Night spirit of things. Perhaps I was too concerned with my upcoming trip to Cambodia to really care, but this year I have no big trips or assignments to keep me from giving football coverage my full attention. I was ready to hit the gridiron again. There's just something about West Texas football, high school football especially, that gets me so pumped up it even makes my hands shake before the game starts. Maybe it's because there is such a huge emphasis on the sport in these parts and the desire to give our readers the best possible coverage we can. (The Standard-Times will be publishing the eight-page Blitz section again this year.) But really for me, it's the atmosphere leading up to the game that draws me in.

I love opening the car door after arriving at the field and getting that first whiff of freshly mowed grass and hearing a drum line cadence echoing off the metal bleachers. The grass on the field is as green as it's ever going to be this season and, if there is a slight breeze blowing in the right direction, the smoke from the Lions Club grill next to the concession stand is drifting through the stands beckoning all within smelling distance to it's assortment of guilty pleasures. There is nothing quite like a high school football game on a Friday night.

MasonWinters04 MasonWinters09 MasonWinters05 Like I said before, tonight's game was kind of a blowout. Mason ended up winning 62-20 to start off their season. If you would like to read the game story, check out sports writer Mike Whitson's story HERE. I hope that I get to cover more of the Game of Week games this year. I rarely get to cover those games because I'm either at the Central game when they play at San Angelo Stadium or covering one of the other area games. The Game of the Week is supposed to be a good match-up between the two teams, but I guess this time Mason was still motoring on all cylinders while Winters was still trying to get used to a new head coach's offensive and defensive scheme.

So here's to all those that pined away during the spring and summer months. The boys of Fall are back. And I feel that this is going to be a great season. All Hail Friday Night Football!

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