In normal times, August is the time we dare to start dreaming about some hint of relief from the heat in a few weeks and anticipating the arrival of football games that count in the standings. But these are not normal times, and this is Alief / Houston, Texas, so it’s still hot as blazes and thanks to the pandemic football is still a long way off.
So what better time to relive Alief ISD’s greatest gridiron season than now? Thanks to Youtube and Dave Campbell Texas Football’s #TXHSFB “Pandemic Theater,” you can watch the anticlimactic end to the Alief Hastings Bears’ bid for a 5A Division II state championship in 1997. Bonus — it’s in the Astrodome, and former Oiler and Aggie QB Bucky Richardson does the color commentary.
Other than the hint we’ve already given, we won’t spoil the ending, but we will reminisce a little on their Bears’ road to the Dome.
Coach Bobby Stuart’s Bears were not widely touted coming into the 1997 season. Prep football experts expected little more than yet another early playoff exit for the squad, like those that had come in three of the previous six seasons. A rugged, “collisionous” defense led by linebacker Richard Cox and defensive end Terrance Colquitt propelled the Bears through a 10-1 regular season — during film sessions after each game, Stuart would award the Bear with the most slobberknocking legal tackle of the game with a “Big Hit” certificate. “My kids take more pride in that than anything else,” Stuart told a reporter on the eve of the championship game. “They take it pretty seriously.” (It’s unlikely coaches would be so open about the violence of the game today.)
Unlike the early exits of previous years, the Bears cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs, taking down Spring Woods and Westbury by a combined score of 80-0. The somewhat average offense of the regular season started firing on all cylinders behind the arm of QB Jacob Smith and the legs of RB Jamil Tharp in the postseason, performing about 50 percent better in both yardage and points over their regular season averages.
Baytown Lee, led by sophomore QB and future Kansas State star Ell Roberson III, proved more of a challenge in falling to Hastings 30-20. The Bears took down yet another blue-chip QB the following week in Beaumont West Brook’s Chip Ambres, whose Bruin Bears fell 33-22 to the plain ol’ Bears from Hastings. Another week, another stud QB next up — this time, Kliff Kingsbury, he of the Playstation-type stats at Texas Tech and now the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Kingsbury led his New Braunfels Unicorns to a stellar season behind 3000 passing yards with 34 TDs, but he had a nightmarish game versus Hastings. The Bears picked off two passes, sacked Kingsbury seven times, and knocked loose three fumbles, two of which were returned for touchdowns. On offense, Tharp got loose for two long touchdown runs en route to 192 yards on the night and Andres Rivadeneira hauled in two long TD passes from Smith in a 46-23 doubling up of the Unicorns.
Which left the Bears with one team to beat, this one helmed by the only Texas HS QB with even gaudier stats than Kingsbury: one Spencer Stack of Marcus High School. (Which was then in Lewisville but has since been renamed Flower Mound Marcus.) Marcus High School was an early adoptee and master of the spread offense, and Stack blossomed, throwing for over 1000 yards more than Kingsbury, who was second in the state in passing yards with his mere 3000 yards….And then he and his basketball-on-grass spread passing attack met up with the hard-hitting Hastings D, and….well, I guess just watch the game.