THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS:
November 24, 2006:
Two hours before kickoff of the matchup of the year, or decade, or maybe ever, Todd Dodge's plan got stuck in traffic. The Southlake Carroll coach wanted his players to think of Euless Trinity as just another opponent, but the Dragons were in danger of not even making it to the game.
It was Nov. 24, 2006, the day after Thanksgiving, and the roads outside of Texas Stadium were packed. The Carroll buses, loaded with the state's No. 1 ranked team, were in the middle of it.
"I remember we had to have a police escort to get us through everyone," said Tre Newton, a Carroll running back who later played for Texas. "That's when it hit us that this was a really big game."
Ten years later, there are some very big games in this second week of the football playoffs. But none can match the second-round collision of undefeated defending state champions that was watched by nearly 60,000 fans.
It might've been more than that.
"I've heard that the crowd was in the sixties," said Steve Lineweaver, who coached Trinity from 2000 to 2014.
"It was incredible," said Dodge, who led Carroll from 2000 to 2006 and now coaches Austin Westlake. "To come out there after halftime and see every seat filled."
Wait a second. Texas Stadium, the Cowboys' home from 1971 to 2008, had a capacity of 65,675. Isn't the record attendance for a Texas high school football game 54,347?
Yes, officially. It was set in 2013 during the Allen-Pearland 5A Division I title game at AT&T Stadium. But according to many people who attended the Carroll-Trinity game, however, that's not the real record.
More on that in a moment, but first, let's set the scene.
In 2005, when 5A was still the largest UIL class, Trinity won the 5A Division I title and Carroll won in Division II. When they fell into the same Division I in 2006, the matchup was so delicious that the schools' 20,000 presale tickets were gone days before the game.
Carroll and Trinity were 1-2 in the state rankings, and although only about 10 miles apart, they had never met in football. There were connections between the programs, too. Lineweaver was a former baseball coach and football assistant at Carroll. Aaron Lineweaver, son of the Trinity coach, was an assistant on Carroll's staff.
The game couldn't possibly live up to the hype. But it did.
John Cobb, a 1994 Trinity graduate who is now the social-media coordinator for the Trojans' booster club, was in the stadium early that day. Shortly after the doors opened at 11:30 a.m. for the 1 p.m. kickoff, he had his spot. In tribute to Trinity's big and tough offensive linemen, he was wearing a wig, dress and pig's nose, much like the Hogettes, the famous fans of the Washington Redskins.
He sat there, watching in amazement at the fans streaming in.
"It kept filling up and filling up," Cobb said, "and then the upper deck was filling up."
Trinity running back Samir Baker remembers his coaches saying the same things that the Carroll coaches were telling their players. Don't get distracted, they said. It's still a football game.
But the crowd was huge. Green on one side, black and red on the other. Evenly split, evenly loud.
"We were kind of in awe," Baker said. "I can't even describe it. It felt like a video game. There were so many people screaming at the same time."
As kickoff neared, Trinity players performed the Sipi Tau, the fierce chant-and-step routine that many fans know as the haka and the Trojans made famous in Texas. The Trinity side of the stands exploded in cheers while the Carroll players were still in the locker room.
That was by design.
"I told one of our middle school coaches, you've got one job. Come in and tell me when they're done with the haka," Dodge said. "Because we are not going out onto the field until that's over."
Dodge didn't want the passion of the Trinity players to add to the already intimidating atmosphere at Texas Stadium.
"We knew it was a really big game and the media had been talking about it," said Carroll quarterback Riley Dodge, the coach's son and the state's 5A Offensive Player of the Year in 2006. "But to walk out for pregame and half the place was already filled?"
The game was even better than expected. Carroll, boasting the state's best passing attack, took a 9-0 lead at halftime. Trinity, a team that could grind most teams in the trenches and unleash its strong-and-speedy running backs, scored twice in the third quarter to take a 15-9 lead. Early in the fourth, Dodge's 7-yard touchdown pass to Blake Cantu gave Carroll the lead back before Trinity running back Justise Campbell broke free for a 69-yard run to give Trinity a 21-16 edge.
The lead changed for the final time when Dodge scored on a 2-yard quarterback keeper with 37 seconds left, clinching Carroll's 22-21 win. The winning touchdown drive was only 35 yards, set up when Carroll stopped Trinity short on a fake punt with 2:30 left.
A lot of people questioned Lineweaver's decision not to punt, which would've made Carroll drive farther for the winning score. Lineweaver said that he simply didn't want to give the ball back to Carroll, which had won 43 straight games. Todd Dodge said he understood the decision, and so does Riley Dodge, who is now an assistant coach at Flower Mound Marcus.
Ten years later, there's little discussion about the fake punt. Most of the talk now is about the intensity of the game - "just absolute huge, huge hits," Todd Dodge said - and the atmosphere - "I'm getting goose bumps thinking about it now," Lineweaver said. Both coaches also proudly talk about how the players from each team embraced after the game, showing their mutual respect.
Carroll won its fourth state title in five years that season. Trinity won state the following season, and did it again in 2009. Carroll won in 2011, led by current head coach Hal Wasson.
Each program has a long list of memorable games, but the 2006 clash is at the top. It's the one game that Lineweaver, who won 258 games in 22 seasons as a head football coach, describes as surreal.
"That game had surreal all over it," said Lineweaver, now retired from coaching. "It was so electric. It was like a dream."
The announced attendance was 46,339, but that figure was taken at halftime, when some fans were still trying to get in the building. Standing on the sideline in the final minutes of the game, I remember talking with other writers about how the upper deck looked nearly filled.
YouTube was still in its infancy in 2006, but you can find a few grainy shots of the crowd. The size of the crowd is unknown, but Newton offers a unique perspective. As the son of former Cowboys offensive lineman Nate Newton, Tre was on the Texas Stadium field for dozens of Cowboys games. The tunnel to the field that he walked down with his dad was the same one he walked down with his Carroll teammates on Nov. 24, 2006.
"When we came out for the second half, that place was rockin'," Newton said. "To me, it felt like a Cowboys game."