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Texas High School Football Titans Ready For Clash

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Texas High School Football Titans Ready For Clash

Texas High School Football Titans Ready For Clash

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: The Abilene Eagles versus the Katy Tigers.

We've been covering high school football throughout this season with our series Friday Night Live. And today, our two sports correspondents are with us from Texas. Mike Pesca is in San Antonio.

Mike, that's where Saturday's game is going to be played?

MIKE PESCA: Hi, that's right. They're playing in the Alamodome.

: And, Tom Goldman, you're in Abilene.

TOM GOLDMAN: That's right, Melissa.

: And, Tom, let's start with you. Tell us a little bit more about this game. This is high stakes high school football here.

GOLDMAN: Absolutely. These are the best two teams in the state and that's not just according to the people here in Texas. USA Today's national poll of top high school teams has Katy ranked number three in the nation, Abilene number four. So these are two powers with rich winning traditions. Katy's success is more recent than Abilene's though.

PESCA: And the state of Texas, it really is the epicenter of high school football. Texas has more high school football players than any state in the country. Almost 600 Texans play in the NFL. And every time that we go to other places, Tom and I have had this experience, we'll talk to a coach in Kentucky or a coach in Pennsylvania, and they'll always compare themselves to Texas.

They'll say, you know, our crowds are as big as some of those in Texas. Or, I think our schools can stand up to some of those Texas powerhouses.

: Well, let's hear some about the teams. Tom, you have been spending time with the Abilene Eagles.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's right. Everyone here, Melissa, is in love with this 2009 team. The Eagles are undefeated this season. They have a great junior running back, Hershel Sims, who you'll probably be hearing about when he gets to college. They've got great team speed on both offense and defense.

What's also interesting and what makes this team resonate is its link to the past. Now, the last time Abilene was in the state championship game was 1956. And that was the time when West Texas dominated the highest classification of high school football in the state.

You know, West Texas was that romantic image of smaller towns, where football was everything.

In recent years, that dominance has been more in the metro areas, like Katy, near Houston, where Mike is, and so this Abilene team has a real sense that it's representing West Texas, as well.

At the last practice yesterday before the game, the coach of 14 years here, Steve Warren, actually choked up when he talked about the connections his team has made.

STEVE WARREN: ...that you've done something special, and it's worth talking about from now on. And it's worth feeling good about because nobody can ever, ever take away what you've created in this community and what you've created with your teammates. And you really ought to be proud of that because that doesn't happen every single day. We're going to go down there and win this football game. Do you hear what I said? We're going to go down there and win this football game because it's our time. It's our time...

GOLDMAN: Now, Melissa, really, there's no crying in Texas football, right? But...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: I guess there is.

GOLDMAN: ...you know, in this case, I think Steve Warren kind of captures the emotion behind this moment for this team in this region of the state.

: And Mike Pesca, tell us about the emotion right now in Katy, Texas, home of the Tigers.

PESCA: Well, their head coach, Gary Joseph, coach of the Tigers, is a different kind of cat, I guess you would say. We should note that the Tigers have been here before literally. They're the defending state champions, and the year before that, they also won the state championship. They won state championships in '97, '00, '03. They're a real powerhouse. And one of the reasons is that coach, Gary Joseph. He plays a conservative style of offense and a very straightforward but tough style of defense, and he's a pretty conservative guy himself.

I talked to Rusty Dowling, the school's athletic director, about Gary Joseph.

RUSTY DOWLING: He's a very conservative, very down-to-earth guy, not a lot of flash and dash to Coach Joseph, just not.

PESCA: Same with his offense.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, same with his offense. I mean, this is what we're going to do, you don't try to stop it. And defensively, this is how we're going to line up. Let's see if you can move the ball.

PESCA: And Abilene will be trying to move the ball with their adept and advanced offense, and it's a real clash of styles because Abilene spreads the field and throws it all around and expects to gain hundreds and hundreds of yards on offense. And Katy just has this shutdown defense that's basic, but man, are they tough. And if all works out as people are hoping, it's going to be a very good game.

: You know, it sounds like it'll be a great time. How many people are expected to show up tomorrow night there in San Antonio?

PESCA: Well, it is part of a double-header. There is an afternoon game, and all those people could come to the night game, which is the Abilene versus Katy game, could be up to 40,000 people.

GOLDMAN: And Melissa, I can tell you that we've been a number of places during this series, and 40,000 would just makes people's head spin in a lot of the places we've been.

: I bet. Well, NPR's Tom Goldman and Mike Pesca, thanks so much. We'll be hearing from you both on Monday about how that game turns out. Thanks.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Melissa.

PESCA: Looking forward to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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