Commentary

Union outlasts Jenks in OT thriller

Updated: September 13, 2008, 11:14 AM ET
By Jimmie Tramel | Special to ESPNRISE.com

TULSA, Okla. -- If the question is what is the most get-your-money's-worth sports ticket on the planet, then go ahead and make an argument for a high school football game in Oklahoma called the Backyard Bowl.

Jenks and Union have shared the last 12 large-school championships, relegating the rest of the state's teams to the "B Flight." It's almost eerie how the Tulsa-area rivals don't seem to know how to play anything except instant classics, and it was business as usual Friday night, when linebacker Daniel Hausher sacked Beau Marsaln on the game's final play to preserve Union's 24-17 overtime triumph at Union-Tuttle Stadium.

It wasn't Hausher's first brush with greatness. He said he once saw actor Billy Bob Thornton on an elevator. But slinging a rival quarterback down in what Sports Illustrated once called "arguably the best high school football rivalry in the nation" surely ranks as a bigger thrill than nearly meeting Mr. "Sling Blade."

Hausher was at a loss to explain why Jenks-Union games always seem to come down to wild finishes. The previous four regular-season meetings were all decided in the final seconds (by a total of 12 points). Last season, Union rallied from a 13-point deficit to win 43-42 in overtime. In that game, the Trojans and Redskins combined for six touchdowns in the last 11:08 of regulation, including three in the last 3:42 and two in the last 1:37.

C'mon now. If the writers of the "Friday Night Lights" TV series produced those kind of scripts, viewers would consider it too Hollywood.

"They probably ought to play this game in March," Union coach Kirk Fridrich said. "I think that's how the [NCAA] basketball tournament goes. You can watch the last five minutes and you don't need to watch the rest of it."

Fridrich's team was cruising along with a 17-3 fourth-quarter lead Friday night. Then Jenks made a quarterback change and Marsaln made touchdown throws of 16 and 54 yards to Tramaine Thompson (both on fourth-down plays) to get the Trojans within two points.

Marsaln is well-traveled, having bounced from Locust Grove to Muskogee to Blackwell and finally Jenks, but he wasn't so road-weary that it prevented him from running for a tying two-point conversion with 1:54 remaining.

But the 12,222 fans in attendance were well-versed enough in Jenks-Union lore to know that this game often isn't over until after the final horn sounds, so they watched Union drive to the 23 and miss a 40-yard field-goal attempt when the ball bounced off an upright on the final play of regulation. Anybody yawning?

Union running back Jeremy Smith, who has committed to Oklahoma State, scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with a 1-yard run in overtime. Jenks, on its overtime possession, advanced as far as the 2-yard line. Then Marsaln rolled left on a fourth-down play, couldn't find an open receiver and was corralled by Hausher.

"He's one of the two returning starters that we have on defense," Fridrich said. "For those guys to play that well against that Jenks offense, I was really proud of our defense."

Union senior receiver Tracy Moore earned MVP honors. First-time Backyard Bowl starter Chase Boyce completed 12 passes, and 11 went to Moore for 149 yards.

Like Hausher, Moore had a brush with greatness off the football field.

Moore, the son of former University of Tulsa basketball player and ex-NBA player Tracy Moore, said he once got to ride on a bus with Michael Jordan. Now the kid is steering himself onto prospect lists. He said he hopes big performances will result in more recruiting attention, "but it doesn't matter as long as I am playing my best."

Moore is usually at his best in Jenks-Union games. Tulsans consider the corporate-sponsored Backyard Bowl the Super Bowl of the high school football season, at least until the teams meet again in the playoffs. Approximately 272,000 fans attended the 12 previous games in the series.

Jenks-Union games usually are held at the University of Tulsa's stadium because the game is such a hot ticket, but Chapman Stadium was unavailable because of renovations that must be completed before the Golden Hurricane's Sept. 20 home opener against New Mexico. So the Backyard Bowl was played on a high school campus for the first time since 2003.

Last year, an NFL Films crew showed up at Chapman Stadium to shoot the Backyard Bowl for the Versus Network. A documentary about the Jenks-Union phenomenon (titled "King of the Mountain: A Rivalry in the Heartland") was narrated by former Jenks quarterback Brian Presley, whom you might remember from his tour of duty as a cast member on the soap opera "Port Charlotte."

Enrollment-wise, Union and Jenks are the second- and third-biggest schools in Oklahoma, and they owe their staying power more to program strength than franchise players. Union hasn't had a player picked in the NFL Draft since 1984. Jenks has had "only" six players drafted in the last 20 years -- Rocky Calmus, Sean Mahan, Jerry Wisne, Anthony Phillips, Jon Phillips and Garrett Mills.

Broken Arrow, the state's most populous school, upset Union in the 2008 season opener. It was Broken Arrow's first victory over Union since 1989. Because the Redskins and Trojans are both 1-1, does that mean the door is open for some other Class 6A team to finally win a gold ball?

Check back at the end of the semester, or maybe March, since that's when Fridrich thinks this game should be played.

Jimmie Tramel is a sports writer with the Tulsa (Okla.) World.