Gary Borders: Zephyr's stadium lights spotlight competitive six-man football matchup
As sunset approached, the sky streaked with pastels of orange and blue, and a full moon beginning to rise, the six-man football state championship got underway at Bulldog Field in Zephyr. That’s in Brown County, on the edge of West Texas, in goat country. Seemingly out of nowhere, the stadium lights appeared after our 306-mile drive. We pulled into a gravel parking lot, dust filling the air. Zephyr means “gentle, mild breeze.” Wind was ruffling the American flag near the concession stand.
The place felt like the football version of “Field of Dreams,” isolated and surrounded by pasture. They built it, and we came. This small stadium has artificial turf, a flawless asphalt track and brighter lights than most places where I shot photos this season.
The title game featured the Trinity School of Texas Titans vs. the Fredericksburg Heritage Christian Eagles. Trinity is where our daughter Abbie attends high school in Longview and is a cheerleader. Going into the final match, the Titans were undefeated at 12-0. They won most of their games by the mercy rule, which goes into effect if one team is leading by 45 points or more by halftime. Going into the final game, the team averaged eight touchdowns a game, winning most of their games scoring 60 or 70-plus points.
Six-man is a lot of fun to watch. There is plenty of scoring with fewer players than in regular football. Nearly all the rules are the same, with some exceptions. The major differences, besides the mercy rule, are:
- The football field is 80 yards long and 40 yards wide, smaller in both dimensions than a traditional field.
- A first down requires 15 yards, instead of 10.
- If a team tries an onside kick, which is a common tactic, it must travel 15 yards, unlike the 10-yard minimum in 11-man football.
- Field goals count for four points. A point-after attempt following a touchdown is good for two points, while an attempt to convert by running or passing is just worth one point — the opposite of regular football. It is easier to score by running it in than kicking it when there are only six players on each side.
The games fly by, being shorter of duration and filled with action. The Titans often headed home at halftime with the mercy rule, which made the matches even quicker.
That would not be the case in Zephyr. Heritage Christian has made it to the state finals eight of the last 10 years, and this was its fourth straight title game. They had won five times in a decade. This was a team used to playing for the state championship.
The Titans fought valiantly, as sportswriters like to say, but fell short, 46-16. After the game, tears flowed freely as all the players, coaches, cheerleaders and other support staff gathered in the center of the field. Each head coach talked to the players from both teams, reminding them that football was not the most important thing in life, that both teams had much to be proud of, and to savor this moment because both teams had played like champions.
Indeed they had. The Titans worked incredibly hard to get to this level. After all, the program is only in its fifth year, and success breeds further success. I predict the program will be a powerhouse again next year. Our daughter will be on the sidelines again, in her final year as a cheerleader.
The Titans filed into the locker room, walking through a gauntlet of fans chanting, “We are proud of you.”
We got in my SUV to begin the long drive from Zephyr back to East Texas. The moon still shined brightly.