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Cooper dream season ends in nightmare game

By GREG JAKLEWICZ /Staff Writer

IRVING - In a span of less than four minutes in the third quarter, "One more inch" turned into one more year.

Austin Westlake's three quick touchdowns sparked the unbeaten Chaparrals to a 55-15 romp over the Cooper Cougars in the Class 5A Division II state championship game Saturday afternoon in Texas Stadium.

Vowing to make up the inch that kept the 1967 Cougars from the school's first state football title, Cooper instead came up considerably short of its goal as Westlake closed out a perfect 16-0 season.

The Cougars, who had won nine straight games, had to settle for the school's second most successful season.

"THAT was a spanking," said one exiting fan, who faithfully stayed to the end of a game decided in the third quarter. Many other Cougar boosters, however, began their treks out of the stadium as the fourth quarter began with Cooper trailing 28-7.

Earlier, a fan enthusiastically waved a "Santa Stop Here" sign. But with one quarter to play and Cooper behind by three touchdowns, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas ... shopping.

"Are y'all going shopping now?" one fan asked a group loading into its car. Many Cooper fans, you see, had yet to complete holiday gift-buying in lieu of watching the Cougars win five straight playoff games.

"Too many turnovers," lamented another fan, adding he was an Abilene High ex who had traveled to see all three Cooper playoff games at Texas Stadium.

Others said Cooper's missed chance to score at least a field goal before halftime allowed Westlake to grab the momentum for the second half. Cooper, which was tied 7-7 with Westlake, had a first down inside the Chaps' 20 with less than a minute to play in the half. But the Cougars turned over the football on an interception.

It was one of eight Cooper turnovers in the game.

'I thought it would be a lot closer game when it was 7-7 at halftime," said one fan.

Added another, dressed head to toe in Cooper colors of red and blue, "It really was a better game than the score showed."

he fateful second half, in which the Chaps outscored the Coogs 48-8, tarnished an exciting first half and drained fans of their excitement. By game's end, if a fan was seen waving a white Terrible Towel, it likely was in surrender.

The game had a sunnier start.

An hour before kickoff, the Cooper side of Texas Stadium was filling rapidly. It would be end zone to end zone by game time, as the Cooper crowd greatly outnumbered fans from Austin.

Cooper fans got into the game early when their team took advantage of a blocked Chaps field goal try to score first. Dominic Rhodes scored on a short run.

By just inches, fans joked. Inches was the theme of the day.

Before the opening kickoff, the Cougar cheerleaders led the chant, "One More Inch!" In the 1967 title game against Austin Reagan, as time was running out, quarterback Jack Mildren dove for the end zone only to come up, officials ruled, an inch short. Reagan won the game 20-19.

t took 29 years for Cooper to get back to the championship game, and fans made the most of it. Interstate 20 early Saturday morning was full of cars with shoe-polished windows encouraging their team.

Some fans sported buttons declaring "One More Inch." Students were more artistic, painting faces with paw prints, "Go Coogs" and "#1."

At halftime, fans in line to order burgers for a late lunch were optimistic despite a tying touchdown by Westlake.

"I think we'll still get 'em," one said.

"I'd feel better if it was 10-7, but it was 7-7 last week, too," said another.

Alas, Westlake's defense, more than its high-powered offense, dashed the Cougars' dream. The Chaps scored 41 unanswered points before Peter Abrigg returned a blocked extra point try for two points. His long run brought fans out of their seats to cheer for the first time in the second half.

With six minutes to play, Rhodes broke an 82-yard run that briefly stirred the faintest of hopes.

"We need to score every minute now to get back in it," one fan remarked. A 48-15 Westlake lead, however, grew to the final 55-15 margin after the Chaps capitalized on yet another Cooper turnover.

"We just got our butts whupped," said a grim fan, staring in disbelief at the scoreboard.

Though fans filed out of the stadium quickly and silently, some paused to recognize the accomplishments of this year's state finalist team which won 12 games.

"It really brought the school together," said assistant tennis coach Leanne Scott. "This was really good for us."

Is it better to lose by one point, or by 40?

"I'd rather it be like this than a close game," one fan answered. "At least you know you got beat."

 

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