1982 playoff game named a classic
With names like Danny Joe, Jerry Tom and Dan Ray, they came from a close-knit small town in north Texas where football was king.
The Pilot Point Bearcats hadn’t lost in their past 42 contests and were back-to-back defending Class 2A state champions.
On Thanksgiving day of 1982, the biggest obstacle in their path to a third straight title was the top-ranked Eastland Mavericks.
As the dust settled on a wild fourth quarter, Eastland would rally in the final seconds to emerge with a 21-20 victory, then go on to win the state championship.
For the approximately 6,000 fans in attendance, they probably realized they’d seen one of the greatest battles in Texas gridiron history.
Almost 38 years later, as the University Scholastic League compiled their top 100 games of the past 100 years, voters agreed.
“I kinda knew ahead of time that this game was gonna be part of the list,” G.A. Moore, former Bearcat head coach, said with a laugh. “I told my wife I sort of wished they’d have picked one of the games we won. But yeah, there’s no doubt that was an incredible football game to be a part of. Just two teams fighting their hearts out.”
Setting the stage
Pilot Point rolled through the regular season as undefeated district champs once again. They knocked off Van Alstyne 49-6 in the pre-district opener, then dominated Celina 21-0, blanked Aubrey 54-0 and Coppell 48-0, defeated Southlake Carroll 35-7, shut out Frisco 21-0 and blanked Little Elm 49-0.
The Cats were especially dominant on defense, only allowing three touchdowns in 10 regular season games.
In the playoffs, the Bearcats easily got past Whitewright and Kerens to set up the showdown with Eastland, to be played at UT-Arlington.
The Mavericks entered the game as the No. 1 team in Class 2A. They were led by quarterback and future Texas A&M signee Jay Hess, considered the best player in the state, regardless of classification.
“Hess was just an outstanding football player,” Moore said. “They had a running back that went to Texas Tech. They had three Division-I college players on that team and a lot of other good ones.”
Pilot Point, on the other hand, entered the game with their top three running backs unable to play because of injuries.
Danny David, current Bearcat head coach, was the senior quarterback for the 1982 team. He was also one of its heaviest available players, following the injuries.
“It was the only game in town, on Thanksgiving day,” David said. “The crowd was unbelievable. The game just went back and forth. You know, we were really the underdogs. We didn’t have any business being on the field with them. Especially after the injuries, we just weren’t very good, to be honest. But we didn’t know it, because we were used to winning every game. We were confident, well-coached and played every game with confidence. It was just a great high school football game. A classic.”
David said the Mavericks were even more motivated than usual to capture a state title, as two Eastland students were killed in a car wreck the week before the Pilot Point game.
“They had a lot of talent and just refused to lose,” David said.
David recalls there was a certain amount of consternation regarding the game being played on a holiday.
“Coach Moore is an unbelievably Christian man,” David said. “Some people were all ‘ahh, why play on Thanksgiving?’ But his attitude was what better occasion? Spend time with your family early that day, give thanks, and then go play a high school football game. And we were the only team playing. So all the football fans in the area came out to watch No.1 and No. 2 play in the playoffs. I remember that whole week like it was yesterday.”
Moore said the decision to play on Thanksgiving was easy for him.
“We’d done it before,” Moore said. “For one, we played in front of a packed house. There were people from everywhere. All the TV stations from Dallas were there. My theory on Thanksgiving was simple, because we planned to play the next week, too. When we played on Thanksgiving, that gave us an advantage to go scout the next team the following day.”
For the players, playing on Thanksgiving also allowed the players to spend the remainder of the weekend with their family members to celebrate the holiday, Moore added.
“The first year we played on Thanksgiving, I had a momma come up to me,” Moore chuckled. “She said ‘what are you doing playin’ on Thanksgiving? I don’t want him playin’ a ball game, I want him home with me.’ I sat her down and talked to her, and she finally went along with it. After the year ended, that same lady came to me and said ‘you know, I appreciate what you did. I never will forget this Thanksgiving, because we spent all day Friday at home with our son.’ So I thought it was a great thing. There never was any controversy as far as I was concerned.”
As the Bearcats stepped on the field for pregame, they were greeted in Arlington by unseasonably mild weather.
“It was perfect,” David said. “Unbelievable day for a ball game.”
Pilot Point entered the game without backfield standouts Mike Gilstrap, Chance Allen and Kyle Smith, who were injured. All three were almost 200 pounds each, and their absence slowed the rushing attack for the Bearcats.
“With our injuries, we had a 125-pound fullback and a 135-pound tailback,” David laughed. “I was 6-2, 185 and was the biggest guy, just about, that we had on offense. And I was playing quarterback.”
Eastland entered the contest averaging 44.5 points per game, but the Cats were stout on defense that year.
Both teams failed to score in the first quarter. The Mavericks hit paydirt first, after moving to their passing attack, and held a 7-0 lead with 1:45 left before halftime.
The Bearcats answered right back, however, moving quickly downfield and finding the end zone on a 23-yard TD pass from David to super sophomore Chris Tipton. Moore elected to go for 2, but the pass attempt failed. David intercepted a Hess pass late in the period as Eastland carried a 7-6 lead into halftime.
The defenses continued to shine in the third quarter. Future superintendent Dan Ray Gist pounced on a Maverick fumble at the Eastland 12, but penalties and lack of punch forced the opportunity to stall. Pilot Point missed a 38-yeard field goal later in the quarter that also would have provided a lead.
In the fourth quarter, Hess found the end zone on a fourth-down play, and the PAT failed, as Eastland moved ahead 13-6 with just over 8 minutes left in the game.
Just as they had all evening, the Cats had an answer. David ran 5 yards for a TD on fourth down and Glen Pelzel hit the PAT as the game was knotted 13-13 with 4:31 remaining.
On the ensuing Eastland drive, the Cats stopped a Maverick fourth-and-1 play to take the ball at the EHS 29-yard line.
Facing yet another fourth down of their own, David tossed a TD pass to Jeff Laird, who scampered down the sideline. Pelzel’s PAT gave Pilot Point a 20-13 lead with only 2:20 left as the Cats fans went wild.
Hess showed why he was the best high school player in the state on the game-winning drive. The Mavs moved down the field behind Hess’ arm, and then faced fourth-and-6 from the Bearcat 27. Hess completed a 19-yard pass to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, the QB tossed the TD pass to pull the Mavericks within 20-19 with only 11 seconds left.
Because they trailed in penetrations, the Mavs opted to go for 2. Hess seemed to be running for the end zone, but faced a wall of Bearcat offenders. He flipped the ball to an open receiver, a play that would win the game 21-20.
“If [Hess] would have run it, we would have stopped him, no doubt,” Moore said 38 years later. “He made a great play. That’s what great players do.”
Looking back, David said the Eastland game was part of an historic run for the program.
“For about a 6-year period there, whoever beat Pilot Point went on to win state,” David said. “Over six years, we only had four losses, I think. We won it twice, then the other four years, it was the team that beat us in the playoffs. So there’s a chance that we could have won six in a row. We got beat on penetrations by Boyd in 1983, before there was overtime.”
The Post-Signal’s David Lewis, reporting on the game in 1982, correctly predicted the game would be memorable in his coverage of the game. In a front-page article, Lewis wrote that the game “may be remembered as one of the best ever in Texas Class AA football.”
Thirty-eight years later, the UIL agreed.