By: Brad Keith
Bob Cervetto has the energy of a man half his age. He whistles and sings as he works and has a nickname for every kid he meets.
And make no mistake. He works tirelessly, as an athletic director and as a football coach.
His kids feed off his enthusiasm; they mirror his work ethic. And all of their efforts are paying off.
And unlike the 2014 season, when Dublin thrashed Corsicana Mildred 54-6 in the first Lions playoff appearance in 11 years, the playoff win in 2015 came the hard way.
Dublin trailed early and looked down for the count. Blooming Grove, with a large, talented running back eating up yardage in chunks, had the Lions down 15-3 by the middle of the second quarter.
But Cervetto and staff never panicked; their team never quit fighting.
Dublin’s only points of the first half came on a 34-yard field goal by Christian Hernandez. But in the third quarter, quarterback Brady Moore hooked up with junior varsity call up Keith Wright for an 8-yard TD to cut the deficit to 15-10.
That set up a fairy-tale ending for the Lions, who caught Blooming Grove in an all-out blitz and beat them with a screen pass to senior utility star Chuy Chacon. A two-time district special teams player of the year, Chacon excels in the open field, but no play in his high school career would match this.
Chacon snuck behind the blitzers, took a soft lob from Moore and followed his blockers before sprinting through an opening and bidding everyone farewell, carrying with him more than 50 years of football mediocrity and lifting Dublin to another level.
“I just kept thinking they’re going to bring the house and we have to get rid of this thing quickly,” said Cervetto of his thoughts before the game-changing play. “Then (offensive coordinator Greg) Hardcastle made the best play call of his life and Chuy made the biggest play of his life.”
Moments later, after its defense withstood one final Blooming Grove charge to complete a dominating second-half shutout, Cervetto cracked one of the widest smiles of his life.
While Dublin was celebrating a meteoric win in Burleson, Stephenville was enjoying its own euphoric night on the gridiron just minutes away in Aledo. The Yellow Jackets were big underdogs on paper, the fourth place team from District 3-4A taking on the league champ from 4-4A in a Division I playoff.
But football games aren’t played on paper.
The Yellow Jackets turned the tables on everything that had held them down during a 3-6 regular season, getting takeaways that set up scores, scoring defensively and dominating like they hadn’t all year in a 49-28 win that wasn’t even that close.
Stephenville rushed for six touchdowns, matching the second most in school history, with three each by Mason Yoes and Matthew Chapman.
But just as it was for Dublin, defense was the real story for Stephenville. Cooper Wood caused a fumble that Sam Cannon returned for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead, and Decatur had less than 100 yards of offense at halftime when the Jackets led 28-0.
“That was a fun night, putting it all together like that after a tough season of ups and downs. That night we looked like a Stephenville football team,” said head coach Greg Winder. “And it didn’t happen by mistake. We had been making improvements and doing the things we needed to lead to a performance like that all year. It just took us a while to get there.”
But they got there right on time, in the state playoffs, and were soon celebrating an 11th consecutive bi-district win.
The most telling sign that times have changed in Dublin can’t be seen at the school or even at Memorial Stadium.
To find the biggest indicator of the meaning of football success to the Dublin community, one needs only to take a drive down Patrick Street on game day.
Once just another day, often leading to defeat, Dublin comes alive now. Lion flags line both sides of the street that serves as the business stretch of US Highways 377 and 67 straight through downtown.
“Two things I knew we had to do when I got here five years ago – we had to recruit kids out of the hallways, and we had to get the community to invest in our program,” said Cervetto. “We couldn’t have one without the other, we had to have both. We needed numbers and we needed support.”
A former principal in Stephenville who used to stand in the entryway to Henderson Junior High and greet as many students as possible to begin each school morning, Cervetto knew just how to start.
“I just met as many kids as I could, got to know them, what’s going on in their lives,” Cervetto said. “Then I just asked them to give me a shot. Come on out and play for me and see if you like it, I promise you’ll have fun.”
Fun turned to commitment and dedication. To hard work. To teammates. To the school and, ultimately, the community.
“We are one. That’s the coolest thing about it is everyone is in this thing together now,” Cervetto said. “That’s what those flags mean to me. Sometimes I just drive through town just to take it all in.”
Greg Winder inherited one of the top programs in Texas.
Stephenville won four state championships in the 1990s under current Baylor head coach Art Briles. The Yellow Jackets captured their elusive fifth crown in 2012 under current Tulsa linebackers coach Joseph Gillespie.
Entering the season, Stephenville had reached five consecutive quarterfinals.
But Winder also inherited a team that lost a five-star recruit at quarterback – Jarrett Stidham to Baylor – and a Division I prospect at running back – Kaegun Williams moved to Cedar Hill.
Everyone had growing pains together, but they did just that – they grew.
By season’s end Stephenville gave state semifinalist Abilene Wylie everything it could handle in a regular season finale, showing flashes of what was to come a week later against Decatur.
Stephenville had a young quarterback pass for more than 300 yards six times in 2015. A freshman club went 9-1, its only loss by a single point.
The Jackets also kept alive their tradition of all-state players with Josh Nowell earning second-team honors as a punter from the Associated Press. Nowell has since been selected to punt and perhaps also play some tight end and wide receiver in the 12th annual Max Emfinger’s incredible All-American Bowl.
The tradition of greatness at Stephenville that began in the late 1980s with Art Briles is still alive and well under Winder three decades later.
In Dublin, Cervetto set out to “Restore the roar,” a motto that captured a community by storm.
In Stephenville, Winder took over a tradition like few others, and that tradition marches on into another year.
Off-season workouts and participation in spring sports will turn to 7-on-7 and summer conditioning workouts and seemingly as fast as the weather can turn in Texas, it will be time for the 2016 season to begin.
Dublin will be painted kelly green and Stephenville navy blue, and both will be outlined in gold: the color of the trophies both teams, both schools, both communities pursue.