Our view: Longhorns prove long on heart

Marengo Academy offensive coordinator Woodie Beck (center) celebrates after a Cason Cook touchdown in the second quarter of last Friday's AISA Class AA state championship game in Troy, Ala. (WAW | Stewart Gwin)

Marengo Academy offensive coordinator Woodie Beck (center) celebrates after a Cason Cook touchdown in the second quarter of last Friday’s AISA Class AA state championship game in Troy, Ala. (WAW | Stewart Gwin)

 

When I became part of The West Alabama Watchman in July, I knew that my role would lead to ultimately covering high school football for the teams south of Demopolis. Jeremy and Michael have always covered Demopolis games as a duo, so my covering of the schools in the south of the county just made sense.

Before I get too far down this path, let me be clear: I am a graduate of Demopolis High School. I attended Demopolis City Schools for my entire grade-school career. As such, my knowledge of high school football has always been of the AHSAA variety.

That all changed this season.

Sure I covered Linden High a good bit (they’re still in the playoffs and play Maplesville Friday night—go Patriots!), but it was on the Marengo Academy sidelines that I found myself becoming more and more intrigued with AISA football.

As I covered the Longhorns, the burnt orange greeted me each week, along with a couple of different fans who’d thank me for being there to cover “our little ol’ school,” as they’d call it.

Webb Tutt, who sort of fell back into the position of head coach this season after the school thought it’d been filled, is as good a head coach as you’ll find in the state as far as I’m concerned. Don’t get me wrong; I have the utmost respect for Andro Williams who habitually has a winning season and playoff run at Linden year after year, and Stacy Luker who decided to bring his Wing-T offense to 5A Demopolis this season. We’re really fortunate in this area to have such quality men coaching young guys and making lasting impressions on their lives.

But there’s something about Tutt’s devotion to excellence that has always impressed me. I first noticed it when he was a defensive assistant on Tom Causey’s staff in Demopolis a few years back, but when he took the reins as head coach at Marengo, the pursuit of perfection became more obvious.

His team found much success this season. Their only two losses came to a Bessemer Academy team that went on to win their Class AAA state championship last Friday, and then Edgewood Academy, who, according to the scoreboard, beat the ‘Horns for the Class AA state championship last Friday.

We’ll get to that game, but let’s go back to Tutt.

In postgame interviews all season, I’d ask about a pick-six, or bring up Hayden Huckabee’s insane amount of rushing yards in a game, but he’d always zone back in on what had to be improved.

“Yeah, Hayden had a heck of a game,” he’d say, “but man we’ve got to get better at tackling.”

In many ways, Tutt is the Nick Saban of AISA football, if you will…minus that whole hating the media part. Sure, we won the game by a sizeable margin, and yeah, we had some great plays, but we’ve got to get better.

Despite his constant attention to what needed improvement throughout the season, I saw a different Webb Tutt after last Friday’s game when his Longhorns came within six points and 30 seconds of knocking off an Edgewood team that hasn’t lost a game in seven seasons.

If you’re reading this and didn’t make it to the game, allow me a moment to set up the scene.

Edgewood scored first and Marengo had an answer for just about every touchdown they were able to put up. At the half, Marengo trailed Edgewood 27-20. Statistically, Marengo dominated nearly every category. Their time of possession was nearly double that of Edgewood’s. With 7:51 remaining in the game and trailing by six with the score 40-34, Marengo forced a turnover and Edgewood punted it down to Marengo’s own half-yard-line. Undaunted, the Longhorns set up shop and did just what they’d done all night: pounded it down the throats of a winded Edgewood defense.

“All I want is four yards per carry,” said Marengo offensive coordinator Woodie Beck earlier in the game. His game plan was working. They were keeping the ball out of Edgewood QB Nathan Rourke’s hands and keeping the Wildcat defense on the field.

As expected, the Longhorns had little trouble moving down the field and soon found themselves a mere 14 yards away from putting six on the board. Six would tie the game, and a PAT would almost certainly have secured the win. With under 10 seconds remaining, the ‘Horns took two stabs to the end zone, but time expired without them being able to capitalize.

Sure, there were tears. Tears from the players, the cheerleaders, the parents. I’m pretty sure I may have even caught a glimpse of a tear from a coach or two. There was disappointment. There were seniors ending their final season in a way that was not supposed to happen.

Tutt said it best after the game: “Man these boys knew they could beat this team. They knew all week that they were going to. Folks around town were asking about the game with some concern, but these boys never gave it any attention. They believed they’d win, and they expected to win. They never considered any other outcome.”

And he was exactly right. As I marched up and down the sidelines that afternoon, I saw something you rarely see these days in high school sports. I saw a Longhorn team who played from behind the entire game, but never lost faith in each other or sight of their goal. I saw a group of high school boys listen to all the trash talk that the opponent could throw their way across the line of scrimmage, and then turn it into fuel for the next play without once losing their cool or their character. I saw Cason Cook toss a six-foot five Division I hopeful Kelvin Lucky around like a rag doll. I saw Lawson Smyly and Weldon Aydelott sack Rourke for a total loss of 19 yards. I watched Andrew “Hawk” Martin reel in an interception that turned out to be only Rourke’s third interception of the year. And the ‘Horns did it all with homegrown, straight out of Marengo County players—no Canadian quarterbacks or Nigerian defensive ends here.

So what do you take from a game like this? As a senior, how do you walk away from a game that was so close but just not close enough?

It’s simple. You take your character. You pick it up off the field in Troy, you brush it off as it may have taken a little beating in Friday’s game as you chose to play with class and dignity, and you put it back on, ready for the next battle life throws your way.

I’m sure many of you felt defeated as you gathered on the field post-game and were met by family members, girlfriends, and classmates who told you that you played one heck of a game. Listen to those people. Find solace in their words, because they are exactly right.

You see, this game was tough. You were tried. You were tested. And how did you respond? Ask anyone who was there, even some in green, and they’ll tell you that you did it with class. You held your heads high, you never lowered your standards, and you made Marengo County proud. Seniors, you led your fellow Longhorns not by telling them what to do, but by demonstrating through your own actions and demanding that they measure up. You are leaders in every sense of the word.

So what next?

Seniors, take this one with you. As you head off to college or enter the workforce, you’ll have days where you feel like you’re being attacked from every angle. It’ll be so easy to lower your standards, to momentarily forget about your character that you’ve developed under your coaches’ leadership. Don’t do it. Remember this game and push through whatever situation you’re facing, keeping your head (and your standards) high.

Juniors, you’ve got big shoes to fill now. Step up to the plate ready to go. Maintain close friendships with the outgoing seniors and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to text or call them when you have a question—that’s what they’re there for and I can guarantee you they want to see the Longhorn tradition continue just as much as you want to win a state championship next year.

To the coaches and parents, keep doing what you’re doing in Linden. Parents, you have raised some of the most respectful, hardworking children I have ever had the honor of covering, and coaches, you’re doing an incredible job building on the foundations laid by these parents and developing respectful children into men of character.

In 2015, that is a feat in and of itself.

Finally, from a Demopolis Tiger and now Longhorn fan, I can’t wait to be on the sidelines again next season covering the team in orange. Hook ‘em!