Ryan head football coach Joey Florence sat in his office and looked past the books on the window sill into the Ryan parking lot.
The prolific Ryan head coach reflected on his time at Ryan, which he knew was coming to an end. He told everybody he hadn’t made a decision on becoming the Denton ISD athletic direcdtor, but he knew he was switching offices months ago.
He reflected over his five state title appearances, his two state championships and all the kids he sent to the nation’s top college football programs. Something was still missing.
Florence picked up the phone on a cloudy January afternoon and made a crosstown call.
“Hey John, it’s Flo.”
“Hey Joey,” Guyer head coach John Walsh said. “I’m ordering our state rings right now. What can I do for you?”
“Listen. I’ve been thinking. I’m about to take that AD job, and I’m still mad about that 2009 game.”
“You mean the one where we beat y’all 28-25 in the regional finals?”
“Yep. That one. Listen. Since we’re never going to play each other again, give me a final chance at revenge. This Friday night at C.H. Collins. No fans. No media. Just the game.”
“Sure. I could use another win. If I hated you like people on the stupid message boards say, I wouldn’t play. But you’re on.”
Florence hung up the phone and brushed off his playbook. He couldn’t think of a better way to end his career than a win over Guyer.
The two coaches had a week to get ready for the game. The last time the two men met on the field, Guyer defeated the Raiders to advance to the 4A Division I state semifinals, where the Wildcats lost to Longview.
According to those around town, the atmosphere on the game was something special, something nobody has forgotten.
That was the last meeting between the teams. The two teams have not been in the same district since then, and the two squads did not schedule each other in nondistrict play.
Nobody in Denton figured that one out.
The two coaches were going to play with their impressive 2013 teams. Guyer came into the crosstown showdown off its back-to-back Class 4A state championships. Ryan made its deepest run in the 5A playoffs and lost to Cedar Hill, the eventual 5A Division II champions.
Both coaches could use three former players.
Florence chose defensive end Mario Edwards (Florida State), running back Earl Goldsmith (Missouri) and quarterback James Battle (TCU). Walsh selected wide receiver Josh Stewart (Oklahoma State), defensive tackle Dan Kottman (San Diego State) and defensive tackle Taylor Bible (Texas).
All week, the two coaches and their squads secretly toiled.
Florence was adored at Ryan. It was rumored that the entire district was going to be renamed Florence ISD, a final tribute to the head coach. At Guyer, work had already begun on Walsh’s statue, which featured the stone-eyed head coach and his pet husky, Jerrod.
Finally, Friday night came. Both teams stepped out of the buses, into the darkness and into their respective locker rooms.
Florence looked around as the Raiders kneeled around their leader.
“Gentlemen,” Florence said. “We’ve overcame the odds this season. Nobody thought we’d beat Waco Midway. Or Keller Fossil Ridge. Or make the regional finals. But we did all of those things. Tonight, remember where you come from. Bragging rights are ours.”
Across the complex, Walsh looked into the eyes of his players. They looked back, souls somehow still intact, and listened to their head coach.
“We’ve proven many things these past two years,” Walsh said. “Anybody in this state would love a state championship, and we have two. We’ve accomplished some great things. But having bragging rights in your hometown is something special. Let’s keep those rights at Guyer.”
Florence and Walsh wrapped up their pregame speeches. Nothing else needed to be said.
Ryan stormed onto the field with senior wide receiver Xavier Gray wielding the American flag and senior J.T. Williams flying the black “Sons of Ryan” flag.The two-time defending 4A Division I champs marched down the bleachers in their white jerseys with silver numbers.
The two head coaches accompanied their captains to the coin toss. Ryan won the toss and started the game on offense.
Battle took the Raiders on a seven play, 80-yard drive capped by a touchdown by Goldsmith to put Ryan ahead 7-0 early on in the contest.
All week, Guyer quarterback Jerrod Heard wanted to be remembered as the city’s best dual-threat quarterback. Battle and Heard both had similar playing styles and both led their teams to back-to-back titles.
On first down, Heard dropped back to pass as Edwards and Sekou Clark came at him full-speed. Heard slipped between the tacklers and headed downfield.
Nobody was going to catch him. He cruised into the end zone, whipped out his phone and took a selfie with the Guyer team flashing the “Hook ‘Em” hand sign. Battle looked and grinned as he saw an 18-year old version of himself.
The Guyer defense contained Battle, Goldsmith and the rest of the Ryan offense. Heard and running back D.J. Breedlove found success on the ground, but the Wildcats couldn’t get things going through the air.
The two teams stayed tied 7-7 at halftime. Florence stepped into the locker room and looked for his halftime meal — a Dr Pepper and a Snickers bar. He found the Snickers wrapper in the trash, got red and turned stormed toward his players.
“Now I’m not going to get mad,” Florence started, “but WHO ATE MY SNICKERS?!? WE’RE IN A TIGHT GAME AGAINST GUYER AND SOMEBODY DOES THIS?”
Walsh had his own set of problems. Turns out his pet husky, Jerrod, devoured Guyer’s halftime adjustments and one of Walsh’s state championship rings. After a few flustered minutes, Walsh got up.
He looked at all of his players again. He didn’t want his future boss to win this last game.
“Boys, it’s time to turn up.”
The Wildcats, led by Heard and the husky, ran onto the field for the final two quarters.
Guyer came out and took the lead on a receiving touchdown by Stewart. On the next Ryan possession, Bible found his All-America form, sacked Battle and forced a fumble.Guyer linebacker Demontrie Taylor scooped up the ball and returned it 40 yards for another Guyer touchdown, putting the Wildcats up 21-7 at the end of the third quarter.
Ryan needed epic comebacks to keep its season alive in the playoffs. If there was any team that could make a comeback, it was this one.
Ryan defensive back Paul Hunter intercepted Heard and returned it to the house. 21-14, Guyer. Florence called an onside kick and the Raiders recovered. Battle threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Gray to tie the game with three minutes left.
Heard led the Wildcats back down the field, but the drive stalled at the Ryan 15-yard line and Guyer settled for a field goal.
Florence rolled up the sleeves of his sweatshirt and let out a deep breath. He knew this was his last game. While the only thing on the line was pride, he wanted this win.
The Raiders went back on the field with 90 seconds left on the clock, 70 yards away from the goal line. Battle completed a few quick passes and got the Raiders down to the Guyer 15-yard line.
With 10 seconds left, Florence called a timeout. He wasn’t looking for three points and a tie ballgame.
Battle and the Raiders stepped up to the line of scrimmage. The quarterback licked his hands and pointed out at the Wildcats defense, ready to make the final stop. He took the snap and dropped back.
Battle rolled to his right with Kottman on his heels and Bible in front of him. He looked a few yards in front of him and flipped the ball to Goldsmith before getting crushed.
Goldsmith spun, threw out a stiffarm and leaped for the goal line. Goldsmith stretched out his arms as he was getting dragged down.
Goldsmith, a couple Guyer players and the ball crossed the plain as the final buzzer sounded.
Ryan 27, Guyer 24.
The Raiders spilled across the field, their cheers echoing off the empty bleachers. The two teams embraced each other at midfield, where Florence and Walsh shook hands and smiled.
“I’ll be honest,” Florence said. “I thought you were going to get me again. Man, I’m really going to miss whooping you.”
“I thought we had y’all, too,” Walsh said. “You should stick around for another year. Let me get my payback in the regular season. I know we will.”
The two coaches laughed and went back to their teams. Both sides chided each other as they were still talking about the game. It didn’t take long for the conversation to change.
They were already looking forward to playing again next fall.
*DISCLAIMER: This game was never played, and all the events (except for the 2009 game) were completely made up. The winner was decided on last night’s Twitter poll, which was more interesting than this story. Ryan won 260-259. The proof is attached. Happy April Fools’ Day.