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A closer look at The Clash of the Century

By Jon Dustin Brooks jbrooks@marshallnewsmessenger.com
Aug. 28, 2010 at 5:59 p.m.

Marshall's Bryce French stiffarms a Longview defender on his left before being tackled during each team's season opener Friday night at Maverick Stadium. The game marked the 100th meeting between the storied rivals.

Jon Dustin Brooks

jbrooks@marshallnewsmessenger.com

The clock was stopped with eight minutes left in the third quarter.

That's when the police tape was carried onto the field.

A punt was muffed. A hit came late. A fight broke out. It happened that fast.

"All of a sudden, I heard the crowd," said Marshall head coach Thedrick Harris. "(That) is what alerted me to what was going on."

Before Harris had time to react, players from each sideline were sprinting onto the field. All 130 of them.

Pandemonium ensued, with one fight spilling over into another, too many happening too quickly to get an accurate count.

"There was some talking go on. There always is with this matchup," said Longview head coach John King. "I think both sides tried to get it stopped as quickly as they could. The problem came when people came off the bench. I feel like everything could've been handled on the field."

People dressed in white were trying to find people dressed in red - and vice versa - so that they could begin to hit them with their fists.

Coaches were sandwiched between players wrestling on the ground, trying to separate testosterone-fueled adolescents wailing on one another in full football padding, including helmets.

Players were being dragged from one another's grasp. There was kicking, pushing, blindside hits. About a minute-and-a-half's worth.

"For the first time in 15 years that I've been covering football in Shreveport-Bossier (La.), East Texas and Southwest Arkansas, we saw the ugliest incident I've seen on a football field," said KTBS sports anchor Tim Fletcher in his television news report after the game. About 10 police officers were on the field, trying to restore order. Not a simple task.

"The thing that upset me was we'd break up one (fight), and another one would turn," said King, in his 18th season as a coach. "You can't portray it (as) just one team. It's both teams involved in that."

A Gregg County deputy and an off-duty Harrison County deputy had to be physically restrained from one another during a heated verbal disagreement, although the ordeal ended in a handshake between the men.

The aftermath: One penalty flag. Four ejections. No injuries, except maybe a few sore hands that had tried to punch through facemasks. No arrests. No fans on the field.

"Both sides tried to keep their kids on the bench and it got out of hand, you know," King said. "It's a shame that it happened. It's the first time I've ever had to go through that as a coach."

Once tempers subsided, punishment was administered. Marshall starting quarterback Bryce French and starting defensive lineman Jensen Jackson were ejected. So were Longview's Cameron Jones and LaKeithan Barkins, a starting defensive tackle. Barkins, according to the officials' best estimation, was determined to have thrown the first punch.

"I just know one of our guys, they said he was involved in throwing the first lick and they ejected him," King said. "They will be disciplined. We have a policy in place and they know what's coming."

Once teams retreated to their sidelines, Longview's Diop Johnson sprinted to midfield and stomped on the Maverick logo, glaring at Marshall's fans.

Every player was assessed with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which meant a second such call would warrant an automatic ejection. That happened to Longview's D'Marjai Devine less than two minutes after the game resumed. He was the last player forced to leave.

"I don't know how else they could've handled it," King said.

"I think the officials handled it correctly," added Harris. "They explained it (to the coaches). We explained it to our kids."

When the fighting leveled off, the head referee gathered players together, as well as both head coaches.

"Guys, we're out here to play football," he said. "Them people there (pointing to Marshall's bleachers) and these people here (pointing to Longview's bleachers) came to watch y'all fight. And there will be no more. Everybody understand me? I'm not playing. Play the game."

No single play throughout the course of the game - not Jaquan Kelly's 77-yard touchdown run for Marshall or D.T. Jackson's 72-yard touchdown reception for Longview - created a louder, more complete response than the fight did.

People jumped up and down, throwing their fists in the air, chanting, yelling, screaming.

"Longview sucks, Longview sucks," briefly broke out in Marshall's student section. Longview's crowd was equally animated. This was Marshall vs. Longview, the 100th meeting. The Clash of the Century.

---

MEET THE MAVS

Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was coincidence.

Either way, the buildup to one of the state's most storied rivalries was already moving forward. And not only in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

A few hours prior to the annual community-wide pep rally "Meet the Mavs" that precedes each fall, the nationally syndicated television quiz show Jeopardy! reran its Nov. 11, 2009, episode - Show No. 5788 from Season 26.

In it, a $600 clue from the "High School Football" category stated, "In this state, high school football is a big deal & Longview vs. Marshall is one of the great rivalries."

Rachel Rothenberg, from Pittsburgh, buzzed in with the correct question.

"What is Texas?"

Later that night, Harris stood on a wooden stage in a bright red, short-sleeved T-shirt tucked into khaki shorts, a microphone in his right hand, a concise message to deliver.

The date: Aug. 13. Fourteen days prior to the season's first whistle. The Mavericks had endured only five practice days. That morning was the first session they were allowed to wear pads, according to the University Interscholastic League's practice manual.

None of that mattered.

An overflowing auditorium - lines of spectators unable to find seats were packed three deep on the back wall - was still waiting to hear the athletic director's thoughts.

Mavo and Maggie, the high school and junior high mascots, respectively, were sitting on the stage's edge, facing the crowd. Cheerleaders, dance team members, band members, parents, school board members and teachers filled the seats facing the stage. Shortly after 7 p.m., eyes across the room fixed on Harris.

Standing confidently atop the fluorescently-lit platform, the thick-legged, barrel-chested former Louisiana Tech defensive lineman didn't reveal any grand secrets. His words consisted of anything one would expect a coach to say two weeks before the season.

"I'm proud of these student-athletes."

"We need you to show them support."

"They've been working hard."

Nothing groundbreaking. Buried at the end of his closing remarks was one specific message alluding to the season itself, though. Regarding Longview.

"Let me tell y'all something," Harris bellowed in his baritone voice, which sometimes collided in short puffs against the buzz of the microphone. "It's gonna be a big misunderstanding come August 27th."

Harris paused for a bare second. "Versus Longview."

Before the last syllable had time to bounce off the back wall, the crowd had erupted into cheer. Some people were already standing and clapping. They were the most heated words that were said all night. They also received the most emphatic response.

Many fans were already clad in rivalry-specific T-shirts - including the entire Marshall High School dance team, the Mavettes - being sold near a gated off portion of the high school cafeteria.

The dark gray tops featured a white helmet on the left and a green helmet on the right, permanently connected in a crown-to-crown explosion in the middle of the cotton screen-print. Large cracks protruded from the impact point, crawling out above each facemask like short bursts of black lightning, leaving an aftermath resembling a broken windshield. The green helmet featured a white "Rocking L" outlined in gold, the trademark logo of the Longview Lobos. An unflinching, red-outlined Maverick head glared from the other, appearing as if it was relishing the impact.

"CLASH of the CENTURY" screamed out from the top of the garment. The slogan printed on the bottom read "One of the Nation's Oldest Rivalries. 100 Years of BLOOD, SWEAT & CHEERS!"

---

TICKETS ON SALE

The parking lot in front of the Marshall Athletic Complex was filled to capacity on an intermittently overcast Wednesday morning, the day still too young for the heat that had melted the area for the past three weeks to pose a threat.

About 50 vehicles rested on the black asphalt directly behind the home bleachers just north of Maverick Stadium.

Late arrivals were forced to create their own parking spots. Some were leaving cars and trucks parked along the two-way drive leading to the field house, some across the street in front of the high school, others on the grassy sideline of the practice field.

Nearly twice as many people as vehicles formed a single-file line in front of the snug box office, just to the right of the complex's double-door entrance.

"It's special," said Royce McCarty, a 63-year old lifetime Marshall resident who estimated he's attended about 40 Marshall-Longview games since he graduated from Marshall High School in 1965.

"I heard this is going to be the 100th meeting," said McCarty, who bought three tickets, including one for his brother and one for his nephew. "That sure will be neat."

The last time Longview made the 23-mile trip east, a sellout was announced the day before the game. Since Maverick Stadium opened in 1980, the Mavericks have won more than 70 percent of their games in the 9,580-seat venue.

Some people, such as Charles Morris, were taking a brief break from work to ensure being one of those 9,580. Shortly after getting his tickets, Morris, an employee for Union Pacific, made his way back to his truck. He had to get back to the railroad. Ladarrian Norris, an oilfield worker who was buying tickets for his father, was in the same rush.

Don James wasn't, though. James, a 60-year-old Marshall native who now lives in Longview, realized the historical significance of this year's meeting.

"If you make Jeopardy!," he said, "that's something."

James said the game's emotion sets it apart.

"It's just a great rivalry," he said. "It's always intense. It creates a lot of fan interest. Fans show up for that game like no other game all season. I expect it to be a tight, hard-fought game."

Buzz was also spreading among the fans that ESPN had plans to attend the game. Whether or not the rumor was valid, no one knew, but it wouldn't be the first time the series garnered national attention.

Outside of its appearance on the aforementioned quiz show, the rivalry was named Maxim magazine's No. 14 nastiest rivalry in all of sports in its April 2007 issue.

On the regional level, Fox Sports Southwest covered the game last year as part of its season-long Dairy Queen Big Game of the Week tour. Not to mention, Dave Campbell's Texas Football named it the state's top rivalry in a series it produced in the summer of 2008.

"It's the biggest game of the year," said Nick Grogan, who played for Marshall in 2008. "To play in that game, it's kind of like a dream come true. It's that intense. It's the only game where the fans get that loud and that crazy."

Grogan, now a nursing student at Tyler Junior College, made the hour-and-half trip to Marshall to get his tickets. He said the drive was a minor sacrifice.

"It's something that everybody comes back for," he said. "You can look up in the stands Friday and see guys that played in the game 25 years ago. I've got friends that just moved to Austin and they're already coming back (for the game)."

In the conversation that filled the morning air, two words were consistent: Beat Longview. It's a feat the Mavericks haven't accomplished since a 38-28 win in 2000, a year before Harris arrived as the defensive coordinator.

"I'd be happy for them (if Marshall won)," said Nick Mollice, who also played for the Mavericks in 2008, when they suffered a 50-21 loss to the Lobos. "A lot of the linebackers that are here now, I helped teach most of them."

Inside the complex, Harris reclined in a large chair behind his desk, preparing for a meeting that was soon to take place across the street at the high school. He still made a little time to talk.

"It's big for the community," he said. "It's a chance for people to go out and root for their hometown, root for their team. It's great to be involved in any history, especially football in East Texas, because of the tradition."

Harris, who last year became the first coach in Marshall's history to guide the team to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, also discussed the game's personality.

"It's an exciting atmosphere and our kids look forward to it," he said. "They're excited, the coaches are excited, we're just ready to get to Friday."

So were the people standing outside the building. Between 8 and 9 a.m, the crowd maintained a steady stream of 20 to 25 people, tapering off shortly after. Finally, around 9:10 a.m., there were no customers remaining. The parking lot had emptied, except for the cars of coaches and administrators.

That's when a man in an extended cab truck pulled up next to another man walking along the driveway back to his car. The driver rolled down his passenger-side window.

"Excuse me, is this where I go to get tickets for the football game?"

---

THE HISTORY

The first UIL-recognized game between Marshall and Longview was a 0-0 tie on Thanksgiving Day, 1909.

That same year included the establishment of the NAACP, the discovery of the North Pole, and the introduction of Henry Ford's Model T car. Since then, the teams have combined for 47 district championships, five state runner-up finishes and two state titles - one apiece.

They've sent 35 players to the NFL, including Marshall's Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle, and Longview's Pro Bowl cornerback Bobby Taylor.

"These are two towns that are blue-collar towns, that love their football," King said in a phone interview Thursday.

Each side has had its glory years. Marshall's domination came first. The Mavs won 18 and tied two of the first 22 meetings. An 11-game stretch between 1913 and 1926 produced 10 Marshall wins and one scoreless tie. It also included a canceled season in 1918, due to a virus that afflicted the area.

During a period of five years between 1911 and 1915, the Mavericks went 8-1 against the Lobos. The teams met twice during four of those years. Marshall also went 9-1-1 from 1943 to 1953.

Longview's run began in 1969, when a 17-6 win sparked a 19-game winning streak, the rivalry's longest.

During that time, Longview fans would sometimes camp out overnight to ensure themselves tickets.

Ryan Nolan, a 30-year-old trauma nurse who grew up in Marshall, remembers attending the 1988 game when the Mavericks snapped that streak.

"It's just been around so long. I've known since I was 3 that you didn't like the Lobos," Nolan said. "That's just the way it was."

Nolan, who graduated from Marshall High School in 1997, operates his own Mavericks Web site, www.etsupersite.com, which originated as a high school project during his junior year. Its message boards serve as a gathering place for Marshall fans to discuss various topics, trends and issues. Traffic typically spikes during football season.

"It kind of puts it in an elite class, to know that there's a game that's been going on this long," Nolan said.

---

A RIVALRY'S EVE

By mid-afternoon, a solemn atmosphere settled into Maverick Stadium. Two yellow buses rolled into the parking lot north of the stadium. One halted near the garage-style door of the field house's weight room. The other waited behind it.

Eventually, a group of young men carrying shoulder pads, cleats and helmets boarded them. Marshall's junior varsity and freshman football teams would soon be en route to Longview. The season was beginning.

Inside the stadium, however, work remained. Other than the barked orders and blown whistles of coaches, there was mostly silence. It was the calm before the storm.

A shy wind sporadically swirled, sweeping above the aluminum and concrete of the home bleachers near midfield. One gust tossed a plastic cup a few rows above a small group of observers perched near the bottom of the stands. The cup's lip scraped against the sharp edge of a step, stopping its roll. Still, the breeze offered no reprieve from the sting of the heat.

On the field below, players progressed through drills in shorts, mesh tops and white helmets featuring a new, solid-red Maverick logo on each side. Coaches stationed along the FieldTurf wore red T-shirts and gray basketball shorts. Most of them shaded their eyes with sunglasses.

"Offense, power, hurry up," Harris yelled after the defense worked on a designed fumble recovery play.

French, wearing a black "no-contact" jersey, huddled the group around him on the sideline.

"One," they called out before uniformly sprinting to the 1-yard line on the field's west side. French took a snap and rolled right, unleashing a tight spiral into the back right corner of the end zone that was dropped by an open receiver.

"Hit him with it again, Bryce," ordered wide receivers coach Jason Black, standing underneath the goalposts.

"We gotta get it done in one time," Harris echoed.

They ran the play again, completing the pass the second time.

A few hundred yards away, in a parking lot behind the gym, the thump of a snare drum led the marching band into the school's fight song.

The sound carried over Maverick Drive, floating into the stadium. Nobody seemed to notice.

Following a few special teams repetitions, the last of which simulated a blocked punt scenario, the team broke after nearly two hours of labor.

Fifteen practices were finished. Kickoff loomed a night away.

Meanwhile, two buses headed west on U.S. Highway 80 toward the county line.

---

GAME DAY

At 4 p.m. Friday, three and a half hours prior to kickoff, Marshall football booster club president Matt Futrell was setting up shop. The longtime Marshall supporter was arranging a pair of blue-topped pop-up tents, preparing for the tailgate party that precedes each home game.

Friday's menu consisted of "Lobo dogs" and coolers full of bottled water.

"What does the rivalry mean to me? Well, it's all about the good, the bad and the ugly. We're the good ... and they're the ugly," Futrell said jokingly.

A southerly breeze stirred the District 14-4A flags that lined Maverick Stadium's entrance. This night, Longview's flag flapped in the place of Whitehouse's.

A ticket booth rested on the home side of the white, cinderblock wall where the flagpoles stood. Taped to its window was a red, laminated sign stating "Sold Out."

"I'll tell you what, if you got some extra tickets tonight, you could sell them for $100 right outside that gate," said Debbie Rogers, who was folding T-shirts at the Maverick Mania store, a converted storage trailer.

Rogers was wearing a homemade Maverick shirt and a large beaded necklace with a zebra-print Maverick head in the center. She purchased the necklace at a 4-H show.

"Win, lose or draw, them Mavs, I still love them," she said. "The football field doesn't define who you are. Win or lose, you are still somebody."

A family of five stopped at the booth to purchase T-shirts. It was "Red Out" night.

Around 4:20, Marshall's players began arriving, some carrying bags of fast food. Taco Bell and Wendy's.

A group of people worked underneath the home bleachers, stocking the concession stand with the evening's necessary materials. Around 5:35, the smell of a grill wafted through the air from across the street.

By then, three Marshall players - Pedro Farnsworth, B.J. Hill and another in gray top - were on the field, stretching.

"You can feel it around here," said Skeet Jernigan. "You can feel who's coming to town. Anybody that traded in their red for green today, I ain't going to tell you what's gonna to happen to them. This is serious business."

Jernigan, a reverend at True Vine Baptist Church, is also a coach for Marshall's 7-on-7 football team, which competes each June. He stood with a group of men near a truck, talking football.

"Everything in my house had to move today if it was green," he continued.

Music began playing on the stadium's PA system at 5:38. Included in the mix was the "Aggie War Hymn," Fox's NFL theme, and "Deep in the Heart of Texas."

It was 5:51 when two Longview school buses drove north on Maverick Drive, followed by a Longview police car. A line of people snaked along the stadium's entry fence, waiting for the gates to open. A student standing in Marshall's line had a message painted on her face. It read "Kick some," on the right cheek and "Lobos butt" on the left.

Among those standing in Longview's line was Joe Weber, a Pennsylvania transplant who is now a landscape contractor in Longview, where he's lived with his wife for the last 12 years.

"People just live football here and it's kind of neat to see," he said. "I think it's just because of the history of it. In our society, people tend to lose tradition a lot. But this game, it's stuck there. They play it every year and that makes it important."

"This is going to be the most important game they play all year," added Leon Bell, who played middle linebacker on Longview's 1997 state runner-up team. "It's tradition. This one game will be remembered throughout the years to come."

---

THE LOCKER ROOM

Following 45 minutes of warmup activities, each team headed to its locker room at 7 p.m. A line of red-clad Marshall players took brisk steps around the back of the home bleachers. They moved toward the field house, where they filtered into a side door, near the training room.

Each coach, wearing white polo shirts tucked into khaki pants, waited outside.

While a band played inside the stadium, the coaches gathered in a circle, locking hands. Assistant head coach Alex Richters led them in a prayer.

Inside the locker room, the smell of sweat was evident, although not overpowering. The silence was deafening.

Not a single word was spoken for four minutes, while players sat on the linoleum floor, some with their backs against red lockers, waiting for Harris to emerge. No other coaches were present. When Harris entered, he commanded immediate attention.

"Alright take those iPods and all that other crap off," he said.

Hanging on the wall behind him was a Mavericks countdown clock that said "Beat Longview" on the bottom. It was ticking down from 16 minutes. Other signs gave messages such as "We ask of you ... just one thing, all you have," and "Character is who you are when no one is watching."

Some players were looking at Harris. Others were staring at nothing in particular. Helmets were resting in laps and on the tiled floor. A shine reflected off the black Nike cleats of one player. The plastic-coated shoes looked brand new.

"I've been trying to come up with something clever to say," Harris said. "But that never works for me. That's not the kind of guy that I am. I just have to talk from my heart ... before every game, I always talk to my old man and a few other people that I trust, but there's not a group other than my family and my close friends that I trust more than y'all. We've spent a lot of time out there in that heat together. That's not an easy thing to do."

As he spoke, the muffled voice of the stadium's public address announcer faintly seeped through the walls. The varsity cheerleaders were being introduced. The clock was nearing 10 minutes.

"We've been knocking on this door for a long time," Harris told his team. "It's gonna come down to who can hit who the longest. Who can stand right out there at the 50-yard line and swing the most. Who can hand out the most headaches. It's time for the Mavs. We've been knocking on that door. It's time to knock it down."

---

THE OUTCOME

Leading 10-9, Longview seized control after the fight.

The Lobos got the ball four more times. They scored touchdowns three of those times.

There was a methodical 12-play, 79-yard drive immediately following the melee. J'haston Faggans finished it with three straight runs, including a 3-yard score up the middle. LaDarrin Robertson and Shannon Polk also notched scoring runs.

The Mavericks, meanwhile, ran 15 plays after the fight, yielding 37 yards, one first down, and one turnover.

"Our defense, for most of the game, played lights out," Harris said. "We got worn down there at the end. I think we ran out of gas because we were out there for so many snaps. Any time something happens, and you lose a starting quarterback and a starting defensive lineman, it kind of throws your game plan off, but we still have to be able to pick it up and execute."

For the third straight year, Longview had turned a close halftime score into a rout. The final: 31-9.

It gave the Lobos their tenth consecutive win in the series, the second-longest streak by either team. It also pushed Longview's series record to 54-41-5.

"Marshall, they played a lot of kids both ways and we were able to win the battle a little bit (at the end)," King said. "Some things kind of got scattered (after the fight). They lost a couple people, we lost a couple people, so you're out of your element there. You have to start mixing and matching people and it's difficult to do."

The game's remaining 20 live-action minutes were played without any additional altercations.

The fight itself remained the talk of spectators, though, already drawing comparisons to the past.

"I was talking with a friend and he told me that was the worst (fight) he'd seen since '72," said Marshall resident Geoff McKay in the fourth quarter. "Of course, back in the '70s we were so bad, that's all we could do was fight."

The incident marked the third fight at a Longview-Marshall sporting event within the last two years. Four players were ejected after a hard intentional foul ignited a benches-clearing brawl during a girl's basketball game in February 2009. A year later, two players were ejected when punches were thrown and benches cleared in a boy's basketball game. A fan rushed onto the court during that altercation. All three fights occurred at Marshall.

"When you have 16-, 17-year-old kids out there, we have to remember that, and sometimes those tempers will flare and sometimes things will happen," Harris said. "I don't condone it, not at all. I'm against it at any time. It shouldn't have happened on either side, but the thing we have to do is, we have to learn from it."

There were no postgame handshakes. The horn sounded. Longview briefly lingered on its sideline, then proceeded back to its buses. Recognizing the disinterest, Marshall headed for its locker room. Twenty minutes after the game's conclusion, fans were still loitering in the parking lots.

Rogers was standing with a group of people near the field house doors.

"Don't forget about what I told you before the game," she said. "About how we love our kids, even when they lose. I want that written in the paper."

She paused.

"But," she continued, changing to a joking tone. "we did win the fight."

Everyone laughed.

---

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