Crockett Hosts Grapeland this Friday

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – “Whoa, Nellie!” as legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson might say. “The hyperbole is done. Now, we can finally play the game!”

When the 2018-2019 football schedule game out, Houston County football fans were a little shocked but quickly circled the date of Sept. 14 as a “must-see” game.

Look for the stands at Monte Jack Driskell Stadium in Crockett to be packed on that particular Friday night as the Grapeland Sandies head down U.S. Hwy. 287 for a tilt with the Crockett Bulldogs.

Sure, the Sandies and Bulldogs have played each other in a few other sports over the decades, but for the first time in 55 years the two teams will meet on the gridiron. Football is still King in East Texas and it’s speculated this game just may add a jewel to the crown.

The Bulldogs had a rough year in 2017 but look like they have reloaded the 2018 season. The Sandies made a deep playoff run last year and are currently ranked in the Top 10 of Class 2A.

After five and a half decades, memories begin to fade but the stories get better with age. Two of the players – Troy Pennington and Johnny Bennett – involved in the last game between the Sandies and Bulldogs were contacted for their thoughts on the 1963 contest and coming one in 2018.

“It was 1963,” said Troy Pennington of Grapeland. “I was a sophomore. I remember we talked about it the whole year because we were going to get to play big Crockett. They were a powerhouse in this area. I think they had a better team, but we wanted it more. They had some great athletes.”

When Pennington came out to warm-up prior to the game, he recalled the stands were packed.

“We played them my freshman year in Crockett and it was I believe it was a tie. We thought we had accomplished a lot by doing that, but the second game of the series, we played in Grapeland and won. It was real close,” he said.

“Crockett was down bad,” he added, “but we were so excited we didn’t know what to do. It was a tough game all the way down to the end.”

Pennington said much like Friday’s game, most of the players knew each other so it should make for a good game no one wants to lose.

“I’m kind of glad we didn’t play them the next two years because they were rebuilding. I think the boys who were my age in Crockett – the biggest part of them wound up getting college scholarships. Some of those guys in Crockett – to this day – will say they didn’t lose to Grapeland,” Pennington laughed.

Just up the road in Crockett, Johnny Bennett discussed things from a Crockett point-of-view.

“I was on the team. I sure was. I remember Grapeland beat us when we played up there. I believe the score was pretty lopsided. It’s hard to remember that long ago,” he chuckled. “I was only a sophomore in high school but they had a good team,” he said.

Bennett said the Bulldogs were just not very good that year and “… may have been one of the worst teams we ever had. We went 2-8 that year and the next year we went 10-2. It was certainly a low-point for Crockett. We were not very domineering.”

“Probably,” Bennett recalled, “everyone in Crockett was hoping we would win, but it didn’t come as a great shock that we lost. Grapeland had a good team that year.”

I remember Grapeland had a real good fullback. He ran all over us and we couldn’t stop him. He was probably 6’3” and 210 pounds. That was big back then,” he said.

Asked who he thought might win this Friday, Bennett said he had heard good things about both teams.

“I look forward to it being a pretty even battle. I’m gonna have to say since I played in Crockett, I hope Crockett wins, but I won’t be too upset if they don’t. It’s good to have this rivalry and it’s good that they’re back playing,” he said.

Grapeland AD/Head Coach Wayne Mahaffey said he expects a good game and hopes to come out of the game healthy.

“It will be a competitive ball game against a caliber of team we will see in the playoffs. It’s a good tune-up for us if we’re going to be in the playoffs because they have quite a bit of speed and athleticism. It’s a good match-up for us – early in the year – because we can use that as a measuring stick for where we are,” Mahaffey said.

His counterpart – Crockett AD/Head Coach Jimmy Thompson – said he had heard the hype and expects a hard fought game.

“They’re a veteran team and a well-coached team. I expect them to be extremely excited about playing – getting a chance to play a school in bigger classification and a chance to play Crockett. These kids know each other. I don’t need to hype this one up. Their kids know our kids and our kids know their kids,” Thompson said.

“It will hype itself. The thing that I hope is that people in both communities will keep it in perspective. It’s just a game between high school kids. We don’t want people to get crazy, sometimes they do when the two towns are real close,” Thompson continued.

“Coach Mahaffey has done a great job over there and we want our kids to come out and represent us well. No matter what the outcome, we want to be friends after the game. I also want both teams to come out of the game injury free. If we get all of that, it will be a good night for both teams,” the coach said.

PHOTO BY JON HOBSON

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.