Friday, October 23, 2015

The Rivalry: Gordon Vs Strawn

By: Shanon Hunt
Edited by: Randy Savage Jr.

The biggest rivalry in all of six-man football is unquestionably the one between the Gordon Longhorns and the Strawn Greyhounds. Not only is this rivalry the biggest in that format of football, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine has listed this match up as being in its top ten rivalries spanning all classifications in Texas.

Only eight miles of highway and the South Fork of Palo Pinto Creek separate the two towns, both of which are split down the middle by a very active railroad. The communities of Gordon and Strawn were both founded from neighboring towns that moved to the railroad when it came through the area around the year 1880. Gordon grew to be the primary cotton ginning and shipping center for the area early on. The town of Gordon was the largest in the county until nearby Mineral Wells became a popular spot with its all-curing mineral water.

Strawn’s growth came a few years later when coal was discovered close by. The success in the coal and oil ventures nearby would push Strawn’s population well ahead of Gordon’s by the early 1920’s.

Strawn - 1920s

Football made its way to this area of the state in 1920. This was long before the six-man format had been invented. The growing community of Strawn fielded a team that season and went on to win three of their four games. Strawn’s talent included some of the immigrant families that moved over from the nearby mining town of Thurber.

Gordon did not feed from the mining population that Strawn was benefiting from, but was instead mainly made up of farming families. Gordon fielded its first team in 1923 and had a shaky start early on. The two teams would play each other for the first time that season with Strawn winning 52-13.

The two schools would face off seven times in those early years before six-man. Strawn would win every game in the eleven-man format. One of Strawn’s best teams during that span was the 1927 squad that went 9-0 in the regular season before losing to Farmersville in the playoffs. Strawn defeated teams like Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Stephenville, and Bridgeport that season.

Gordon 1930's

Gordon’s best season in the eleven-man days was in 1945, when they went 5-2-1.

After a few years of being unable to field an eleven-man team, Gordon switched to the wildly popular six-man format in 1955. This new variation on the sport, created in the late 1930s, allowed schools to field teams when their numbers were too small for the traditional eleven-man format. The sport’s popularity drew national headlines and the new format spread like wildfire. 

Strawn went 9-1 in 1954 but a serious injury that season sustained by their best player, Larry Pruitt, would take the life out of the football program for the next few years. After a couple of rough season and after much discussion, Strawn made the move to six-man prior to the 1957 season.

Strawn won the first meeting with Gordon in the new format 28-24 in 1957. Gordon would win the next two contests starting with a 2-0 victory in 1958 and the teams would tie 12-12 in 1960.

With the tie to start off the decade, the 1960s fueled the beginnings of what would often be a heated rivalry. It was during this decade that the games started to mean more than just bragging rights. They would involve district championships and playoff implications more times than not. Gordon’s numbers dipped during the first couple of years of the decade causing Gordon to not field a team in 1962. Strawn was also having their woes early on and had yet to see an improvement in their football program since the Pruitt injury in the mid 1950s. 

Prior to the 1963 season Strawn’s football program was on the brink of being discontinued. When the football coach, Clarence McDaniel, was let go they replaced him with a basketball coach named Don Hafley. After much discussion and pleading by the high school boys, Strawn’s school officials decided to give the program one more shot that year. The Hounds went on to win district that season, forever solidifying the future of their program. 

Gordon would also solidify their program when prior to the 1964 season they hired a basketball coach named Boyd Lowery. He would immediately bring Gordon to football relevance. 

After four straight series wins by Strawn, Gordon would win two in a row in 1966 and 1967. Gordon’s ’67 team was the best squad fielded at Gordon up to that point. Quarterback Nelson Campbell led the team that year to a 62-26 win over Strawn in route to Gordon’s first District and Regional titles. The Regional round was as far as a six-man team could go back then. 

Gordon 1967

Strawn would close out the decade with two of their best teams to that point. In 1968, led by guys like Kirk Hinkson, Larry Kueck, and Johnny Gailey, the Hounds beat Gordon 50-0 and went on to claim their first Regional Title and undefeated season. Strawn finished out the decade with a nail biting 37-36 victory over Gordon and finished the regular season 10-0 before losing in the Regional game to Cherokee 47-44.

Strawn led the series with Gordon 6-2-1 during the decade of the 1960s.

The first half of the 1970s was primarily dominated by Gordon. The Horns would not lose to the Hounds for six straight seasons. Some of those games were close ones including a 20-20 tie in 1972. Strawn turned the tables on the Gordon in 1976 with a 53-24 victory. 

Strawn 1978

It was during these years that some of the infamous Gordon and Strawn rivalry shenanigans started taking place off the field. It was not uncommon for one school to burn their letter in the other’s football field or light their rival’s bonfire a day or two early. These sorts of acts, looked on now as more criminal than innocent, spanned throughout the 1970s through the early 2000s.

In the summer of 1977 Strawn hired Gordon alum Nelson Campbell to coach their team. Campbell had starred at Gordon as a player and went on to play for TCU. He initially set his sights on a career in business but when his wife took a teaching job at Strawn he followed suit. Campbell would prove to be a highly successful head coach for the Hounds and go on to defeat Gordon in three out of four contests. In 1979 he guided the Hounds back to the playoffs with an undefeated regular season. They would lose to eventual state champion Milford 66-49 in the Semi-Final round. 

At the end of the 1970s, Gordon led the series for the decade 5-4-1.

The 1980’s started with a 44-30 win for Gordon, with head Coach Alan West leading the Horns to their first series win in four years. Campbell made the move to Gordon during the summer of 1981 to replace West as head coach at Gordon. The Horns were loaded with talent that year, including senior running back Clyde Parham. Gordon defeated Strawn in ’81 by a score of 63-21 in Gordon. The Horns would reach the Semi-Finals that year where Whitharral defeated them and would go on to win it all that season.

In a span of three years Campbell had led two different teams to the semis. It would be a few years before either team would make it that far again.

Strawn, now led by another Gordon Ex James Grigsby, would answer back in 1982 defeating Gordon 52-18. The Hound’s victory was in large part due to the efforts of their star player, Larry Holder. 

Gordon’s school went through some growth and their football program grew in the 1980’s. With Campbell leading the charge, there was a renewed interest in the sport. From 1983 to 1986 Gordon would defeat Strawn three out of the four contests. 

In 1987 Strawn, led by freshman quarterback Mike Diaz, came from behind to tie Gordon 30-30 at Longhorn Stadium. Diaz and Company would go on to win the next three in the series, all by very small margins. Strawn won 37-32 in 1988, 27-26 in 1989, and 36-33 in 1990. During this stretch, the Hounds were coached by one of their own former graduates, Robert Talley. The late 1980’s stretch of close games would prove to stoke the rivalry fires to new levels. Those games proved that no matter how much talent a team had, Strawn having the upper hand in that department a couple of the years, it could go down to the wire.

When the dust settled and the 1980’s were over Gordon held on to the decade series record 5-4-1.

In 1991 winds of change were blowing to the favor of Gordon. The Horns took control of the series that season with a 48-0 win over Strawn. Gordon would go on to win seven straight. In the mix were a couple of close games, 44-38 in 1992 and a 40-30 win in 1995. The Horns, led by Jim Ed Kostiha and Jason Sizemore, defeated the Hounds 72-28 in 1996 and went on to win Gordon’s first state championship.

Prior to the start of the 1998 season, Strawn hired Clyde Parham to lead the Hounds football program. Parham had starred on the 1981 Gordon team. He served a brief stint at Gordon in the late 1980’s as an assistant under Campbell. Parham was looking to prove his abilities as a head coach to Gordon and did just that in his first season. Strawn ended Gordon’s winning streak in the series 20-14 led by quarterback Shane Mallory. The Greyhounds would make it to the Semi-Finals that season, where they met eventual state champion Trinidad.

Something happened at the end of the Gordon/Strawn game that season that would stick in the mind of Gordon’s players for years to come. At the end of the Strawn win, Strawn fans waived their greyhound flag over on the Gordon sidelines in celebration. Gordon’s coach Campbell was quoted as saying "…after they beat us, they ran around our stadium for an hour carrying their flag and that stuck in the kids' minds." He vowed that the Horns would be seeking revenge the next season.

Sure enough in 1999 at Greyhound Stadium the Horns were fired up going into the game. Both teams had one loss on the season and the district championship was on the line, as it was most years. Just prior to kickoff a Strawn fan ran their flag through the Gordon spirit line and in front of the team. This reminded the Horns of the prior year and further fired the team up. Gordon took the field, led by senior quarterback Lyle Campbell, and handed Strawn a 48-0 loss while holding the Hounds to zero yards rushing. The Horns would go on to win their second state title that season.

Gordon commanded the series in the 90’s with a record over Strawn of 8 and 2.

Strawn got their revenge in 2000 with a 46-0 win over Gordon. However, Gordon answered that score reversal with a 48-0 victory in 2001. That three-year span had the biggest variation in the scores to date.

The Horns defeated Strawn in 2002 in a close 35-19 battle. Strawn made a splash prior to the 2003 season when they hired a highly successful football coach from west Texas named Dewaine Lee. Coach Lee, much like Campbell brought a hard-nosed approach to town and implemented it quickly. Lee, a high school standout at Crane, played college ball at Eastern New Mexico prior to entering the world of coaching six-man football. Grandfalls-Royalty would be Lee’s first shot at head coach, back in the mid 1990s. He would go on to build a powerhouse there and also Silverton before making the journey to Palo Pinto County. 

Gordon traveled to Strawn in week eight of 2003. Both teams were ranked high and undefeated. Gordon jumped out to an early lead and held on to win a tough battle 47-34. Gordon and Strawn appeared to be on a course to meet again in the playoffs, but it was not to be. Gordon fell to Richland Springs in the Regional round and Strawn would later get by them and claim their first state title. 

Gordon vs Strawn 2003

Coach Campbell retired with the most wins as a six-man coach after the 2003 season. His departure would cause program instability for Gordon as Strawn’s program under Lee was going full speed. Strawn would claim the next three games in the series with Gordon going through three coaches during that span.

In 2007 Gordon, under Coach Tye Adams, would come back from a twenty point deficit late in the game to defeat Strawn 64-50. It was the largest comeback in the history of the rivalry. Gordon would defeat the Hounds 60-30 the next season, in a game they were predicted to lose by a large margin. Strawn would get the last laugh in the Quarter-Final round of the playoffs when the two met again. It was the first ever meeting for these two in the post season. Strawn overcame an early Gordon lead to win 89-58 in Mineral Wells. The Greyhounds went on to claim their second state title. 

Gordon vs. Strawn 2007

Gordon vs Strawn 2008 - Quarterfinals at Mineral Wells

Gordon hired a Strawn alumnus, and former football standout, Shane Mallory to lead the Horns prior to the 2009 season. While three Gordon exes had held the position at Strawn, Mallory was the first Strawn ex to take the reigns at Gordon. Mallory took over a program in much need of repair. In his first season at the helm he was unable to avoid having the game ended on his squad by Strawn. The Hounds made their third trip to the finals in 2009 where they were defeated by Garden City in a high scoring affair.

Prior to the 2010 season the schools found themselves separated by the UIL when the bi-annual realignment took place. Strawn dropped down into the six-man Division II with lower enrollment numbers, while Gordon remained in Division I. The move marked the first time since 1957 that the two teams were not in the same district. In their first ever meeting prior to district play the Hounds demolished the Horns 68-18, showing that the divisional split had no bearing on quality of play. Gordon found their way back to the winning column over Strawn the following two season with wins of 57-50 and 36-34 in 2011 and 2012 respectively. The Horns were led by the likes of Emory Allen and Michael Cherry during those seasons. The 2012 game, which was largely played in the rain, ended in a wild fashion that involved an attempted punt by Gordon in the final seconds that had the snap to the punter sail over his head into the end zone. After several failed attempts to take the loose ball, Gordon running back Pedro Lopez scooped it up and took it to the 5 yard line as time expired. 

Gordon and Strawn would end up 2012 semi-finalists in their respective divisions. 

Gordon saw the departure of Coach Mallory prior to the 2013 season. He would eventually be replaced by Gordon Alumnus Joe Kostiha.

Coach Kostiha had been a standout for the Horns in the late 90s and would continue to have a great run on the collegiate level. After college he landed a job as an "eleven-man" football assistant. He would coach in the higher classifications for ten years. Coach Kostiha's Horns would lose to Strawn 75-30 in pre-district action of the 2013 season. However, both teams would end up making good playoff runs.

The 2014 realignment saw Strawn move back up in to Division I, and back into the same district with Gordon. Gordon would come out as the winner of the first meeting in the new re-alignment by the score of 60-50, virtually eliminating Strawn from the playoffs.

This 66th Battle of Palo Pinto Creek also holds playoff implications for both Gordon and Strawn. The rivalry currently stands in Strawn’s favor, at 32-30-3. A loss for Strawn once again may eliminate them from the playoffs. Gordon will have to win to make sure that their meeting with May next week will be for the District title. Gordon does travel to Strawn this year though, where they have not won since 2007. With Strawn hindering on the brink of falling back to Division II , and out of district play each year against Gordon, this should make for another great one!

Last 65 Times These Two Teams Have Met

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