A decade later, many find themselves still trying to digest the elements which made the John Tyler-Plano East meeting arguably the most memorable ever.
The unforgettable events, which unfolded two days after Thanksgiving on Nov. 26, 1994 at Texas Stadium in Irving, garnered national attention after John Tyler defeated Plano East 48-44 in one of the most unique blowout-turned-comeback-turned-runback endings ever seen in the history of high school football.
The more than 30,000 who attended the game and the thousands who later witnessed the dramatic outcome via television widely consider the encounter to be one of - if not the - greatest games to ever be played on a high school football stage.
Plano East's rally over the final 3:03 - in which the Panthers scored four touchdowns, recovered three onside kicks and turned a 24-point deficit into a 44-41 lead with 24 seconds left - merited unordinary attention of its own. Then, when Plano East appeared to be moving on in the playoffs, John Tyler stamped legendary status onto the game with Roderick Dunn's 97-yard kickoff return right down the Lion sideline, much to the dismay of the remaining Plano East fans, as well as local announcers broadcasting the game for a Plano-Richardson television station.
After showing clips of the game in the following weeks, ESPN awarded John Tyler-Plano East an ESPY award for Showstopper of the Year in 1995 - giving the Texas high school football game the nod over a tough field that included Indiana Pacers superstar Reggie Miller's 39-point effort, including a 25-point outburst in the fourth quarter of their Eastern Conference semifinal showdown with the New York Knicks; Wayne Gretzky's historical shot that moved him into the No. 1 spot on the NHL's all-time goal scoring list; and Kansas State's Askia Jones' 62-point performance in an NIT quarterfinal matchup.
Back in June, Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine dedicated three pages to the legendary tilt. Earlier this month, ESPN ranked the game among its top 10 premature celebrations of all-time, due in part to Plano East announcers Eddy Clinton, Denny Garver and Mike Zoffuto's pro-Panthers commentary. Now DVD's of the game, titled "The Greatest High School Football Game of All Time" and presented by Clinton, exist and can be ordered online for a premium. On Friday night, Fox Sports Net Southwest plans to honor the game on its high school football show with a retrospective.
Using phrases such as "Good gosh almighty Joe Friday," "Yal done missed the greatest comeback of all-time," "Oh, no," and "God bless those kids, I'm going to throw up," the broadcasters added spice to an already flavorful outing.
"The announcers brought a lot to it," said Dallas Carter head coach Allen Wilson, who guided John Tyler to the win over Plano East as well as the state championship in 1994. "The conversations they had on the tape, the networks picked up on because of what they were saying on the air. The ballgame itself was secondary."
By most accounts, the JT-Plano East affair stood the test of time.
"You hear about it all the time," said Wilson, who coached John Tyler from 1991-2001. "Folks find out you're from Tyler and that's the first thing they want they want to know."
Prior to the first of many kickoffs, the Class 5A Region II semifinal showdown promised to be exciting with both teams coming in undefeated and Plano East ranked No. 2 in the state and John Tyler No. 3. Before the teams clashed, Wilson remarked, "It's a classic. You don't get too many classic games. You've got two 12-0 teams coming from totally different regions. It's got the makings of a great ballgame."
For John Tyler, gameday started with a unique Saturday pep rally that morning on the school's practice field. Shortly afterwards, John Tyler and its legions of supporters traveled westwards known as the school which produced one of the state's greatest teams ever in 1973, led by one of Texas' top football legends, NFL Hall-of-Famer Earl Campbell.
Tylerites, thanks to some late-game heroics from the Lions, returned home that night ready to be known for something much more - a town that helped produce arguably the greatest high school football game ever.
The JT-Plano East contest, the nightcap, followed the Lufkin-Plano Division I matinee.
In the first half, the teams traded blows until JT received some cushion on the heels of Morris Anderson's 13-yard TD toss to David Warren right before halftime, which gave the Lions a 21-14 lead.
A low scoring third quarter, in which the teams kicked one field goal apiece, preceded a different fourth quarter - which literally became a game within itself.
In the fourth quarter, the teams combined for 51 points, including 48 in the final 4½ minutes. Following Nico Hernandez' second field goal, which upped JT's advantage to 27-17 on the first drive of the final quarter, the Lion offense never touched the ball again. Still, the Lions managed to score three times, including twice on defense.
A JT defense featuring two standouts in Marc Broyles and David Warren, who teamed up to win three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards, aided the Lions in turning a close game into a rout. With the Panthers eight yards away from pulling to within three points of JT, Broyles stripped Plano East quarterback Jeff Whitley on the goalline and returned the fumble 90 yards the other way. Barely one minute later, Warren grabbed a fumble and scooted 35 yards for another JT TD, giving the Lions the seemingly insurmountable lead, 41-17, with 3:03 showing on the Texas Stadium scoreboard.
"There's no doubt about it (we were the dominant) team," Wilson said. "But you have to give credit to them for not quitting. You had character kids on both sides of the ball and once they went up, we didn't quit. It's easy to say you had a good year and then go home. We could have said it and they could have, but neither one of us did it."
With Broyles out of the game and some of JT's assistant coaches en route from the pressbox to the field, the Lion defense never recovered as Plano East hurried to four straight scores in a span of 2:25 after setting up with just under three minutes left.
"The coaches didn't have time to say anything," said Darwin Brown, a standout on the 1994 team who later played at Texas Tech and now coaches alongside Wilson at Dallas Carter. "Most of the secondary was on the hands team and we had to go right back out. There was no time for us to talk to them. We couldn't really stop and come up with a gameplan and make any adjustments. Once momentum started, we couldn't slow them down. From 2:55 until the end of the game, we never left the field."
On the ensuing kickoff following Warren's defensive TD, Whitley directed Plano East to a quick two-play, 70-yard drive to bring the Panthers to within 41-23 with 2:36 left.
From there, the team's teamed up to make history.
Terrance Green booted the first of three successful onside kicks. Mickey Jones, then a sophomore, gathered Green's first onsides kick then attempted to head upfield before being stripped.
That paved the way for another Plano East quick drive, which spanned 67 seconds and ended with Whitley's 5-yard pass to Jonathan Braddick and subsequent two-point conversion.
Dunn, who before becoming hero seemed on his way to scapegoat-status, fumbled the final two onsides kicks. Following the first, Whitley engineered a 33-second TD march, which featured one fourth-down conversion and a 6-yard TD pass to Braddick.
At that point, Garver chided the Plano East fans who left, calling them "sorry dogs."
One onsides kick away from capping the spectacular, Plano East accomplished its mission after Dunn prematurely tried to corral Green's third dribbler. This time, Plano East needed only three plays to complete the comeback. Whitley again factored into Plano East's go-ahead TD, hitting Robert Woods on a 23-yard strike out of the backfield.
"It was pretty wild," Wilson said. "It was my first time seeing three onsides kicks recovered and the momentum switch as much as it did during the course of the ballgame. The last quarter and last three minutes were like a game in itself."
All the while, the announcers proclaimed the game "the greatest comeback of all time....of all time."
With only 24 seconds left, JT's storybook season looked to be nearing its final chapter.
"They did a good job coming back," Broyles said. "I'll be honest, on the way out (to the final kickoff) I was thinking about starting soccer practice."
Instead of a fourth onside kick or squib kick, East elected to boot to Dunn deep.
Dunn fielded the ball over his left shoulder with one leg back. He looked ready to go left but instead cut back past Ricardo Dunn, blowing past several Plano East defenders, and headed behind his caravan of blockers, including Darwin Brown, Jesse Taylor, Broyles and Warren, into the end zone.
"I just wanted to get the ball as far down the sideline as possible," Dunn said. "I wasn't expecting to score, it just happened that way. I was at the 20-yard line when he kicked it off and I went back to the 3-yard line. Terrance Green kicked a real good ball. It seemed like everything went in slow motion and it opened up liked the parting of the Red Sea.
"The rest is history."
As the return unfolded, a disheartened Zuffoto screamed "Oh no. No. Come on, no, no, oh gosh. I'm sick, I think I'm going to throw up."
Meanwhile, JT's celebration kicked into overtime mode, spilling into the Dallas Cowboys' locker room. Dunn slowed up as he neared the tunnel, then Brown, teammates, JT cheerleaders and Lion guards, as well as fans sitting near the action trailed the load of excitement beyond the field of play.
"He scored and I just grabbed him and took him into the tunnel," Brown said. "Everyone just followed and next thing you know whole team is in there. It was just an emotional deal."
TURNING BACK THE CLOCK
When looking back at the game, a consensus reigns among former Lions who say they'd rather the game had ended with them comfortably ahead, as opposed to gaining the nation's attention for the wild ending.
"It should have never happened," Wilson said. "If we'd recovered the first (onside kick) and Mickey gets on the ball, it's over and no one hears about it. He runs around, fumbles and what transpires is history. We should have got out without anyone ever hearing about it. I would have preferred it to happen that way - hit the ground with the ball, run out the clock and go home. The way it ended was great, but it shouldn't have had that storytell ending."
In the end, not only did the VCR's and DVD's receive a new favorite, players and fans alike learned about giving up too soon and fighting to the end.
"That's the beauty of the game and a lesson that can be learned," Wilson said. "Never quit and play until final buzzer sounds."
Thanks for the video, I've been looking for that online for a while. Texas high school announcing at its finest. Lufkin posts a lot of their games online at their website. Their announcers are similar type homers. Although they called Jorvorskie the "Lane Train" as opposed to the "J-Train".
"Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic mechanism, from which one extracts what one needs."
That video was the greatest thing ever. How many seconds were left on the clock when the final kickoff for the run back was kicked?
A music fan that doesn't have it in them to find new music anymore is like absolute death to me. What are you even doing being alive if you're not trying to constantly grow?"
-Will Sheff, Okkervil River