Commentary

Studs and duds of the 2008 football season

Updated: December 29, 2008, 11:46 PM ET
By Doug Huff and Mark Tennis | ESPNRISE.com

Every high school football season produces numerous memorable, and forgettable, moments.

For these unusual, unique or otherwise bizarre happenings -- both on and off the gridiron -- we have a special "Studs 'n' Duds" category.

Here are some that caught our attention in 2008. Studs or duds? You decide. Check back tomorrow for the second part of our look-back at the season.

Freddie Levine
AP Photo/John FroschauerEven a harrowing bus ride couldn't keep Freddie Levine and Bellevue from the title.

Worst ride to a game

On Nov. 28, the bus carrying players and coaches of the Bellevue (Wash.) football team was involved in an accident on its way to a Class 3A state semifinal game scheduled to be played at the Tacoma Dome. The game, against Capital of Olympia, had to be postponed and was rescheduled for the following Monday. The bus was hit by a big rig during the four-vehicle accident and fell on its side. No players or coaches were hurt seriously, but head coach Butch Goncharoff suffered cuts on his back, and seven players were taken to the hospital for treatment. When Bellevue made its trip to the makeup game three days later, the driver followed a route that took the bus away from the interstate. The unbeaten Wolverines, ranked in the FAB 50, won that game, and the following weekend, they took the Class 3A championship, 35-6, over Union of Vancouver.

You get what you pay for

East Liverpool (Ohio) High School has sometimes struggled to win games in recent seasons. But fourth-year head coach Pat McNicol went to extreme measures to motivate players to perform on the field. McNicol gave the first player to make a hit during an opponent's kickoff return a $20 bill. The tactic obviously was not successful, since the Potters -- the alma mater of Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz, among others -- finished with a 2-8 record. When the Ohio High School Athletic Association learned about the practice, it ruled three players ineligible and forfeited the Potters' two wins -- one to a winless team -- and the high school suspended the coach, who later resigned his coaching position.

A Chief off the old block

Before a Missouri state semifinal playoff game between Kansas City rivals Rockhurst and Blue Springs, the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs quietly presented Darian Thomas, the son of famed Chiefs' sackmaster Derrick Thomas, his late father's shoulder pads. It was a perfect fit, no doubt, for the Blue Springs defender. Darian dominated play in the victory over his team's archrival, recording four sacks and nine tackles despite playing most of the second half with a broken arm. The apple sure didn't fall far from that tree.

[+] EnlargeTim Phillips
Jim Owens/Icon SMISaint Xavier attempted to tackle the nation's toughest schedule this season.

Nation's strongest schedule

No high school in America faced a tougher schedule than St. Xavier (Cincinnati). The defending Ohio Division 1 champion Bombers entered the 2008 campaign with an ambitious slate, including teams that would later win state titles in five states -- Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, New Jersey and Alabama. Five foes would end up ranked in the top 25 of the ESPN FAB 50 national poll -- No. 7 St. Ignatius of Cleveland; No. 14 Don Bosco Prep of Ramsey, N.J.; No. 17 Elder of Cincinnati; No. 20 Prattville, Ala.; and No. 24 Trinity of Louisville, Ky.

But the fortunes of the Bombers rode with junior quarterback Luke Massa. As a sophomore, he replaced injured senior starter John Hurley (knee) and the team went 7-0 and won its second state Division 1 title in three years. In the offseason, he broke his right foot playing basketball in January and had surgery. The lingering effects of that injury caused Massa to miss the season opener against city rival Colerain, and the Bombers lost 13-8. Massa returned to the lineup for the next four games, and St. Xavier was off to a 3-1 record start, and a national ranking, with victories over three teams that eventually would claim state crowns -- Prattville (13-1), Cathedral (12-2) of Indianapolis and Don Bosco Prep (11-1). But Massa injured his collarbone during the Bombers' 17-6 loss at Trinity (14-1) and was sidelined the rest of the regular season. St. X finished 4-6 and failed to make the playoffs.

Matt Cassel Award (backup QB of the year)

This honor has to go to Tucker Carter, the junior from Allen, Texas. Carter stepped up when highly regarded junior Matt Brown went down with an injury. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Carter had to lead Allen against the team's toughest foes in the playoffs as well. The first of those matchups was against Permian of Odessa, a game Allen won 28-22. Carter then directed Allen to a 34-21 win over national No. 1 Trinity (Euless). In the Class 5A Division 1 state semifinals, he threw the winning touchdown pass against Stony Point with just 39 seconds left. And in the state finals, Carter passed for 238 yards and all three scores as Allen defeated Hightower of Ford Bend, 21-14. So what happens next? Fortunately, neither Carter nor Brown has agents and contracts to worry about. Perhaps if they were in Southern California and had quarterback gurus training them, one of them would be transferring to a school at which the quarterback guru thought the player would light up the stat charts.

Note: A huge honorable mention in this category goes out to sophomore Phillip Ely from FAB 50 ranked Plant in Tampa, Fla. Ely did a fantastic job replacing All-American Aaron Murray after Murray suffered a knee injury in October. Ely had two TD passes when Plant avenged its only loss with a 17-14 win in the Class 4A state quarterfinals against Armwood. Murray came back for the semifinals and finals of the state playoffs -- and Plant won the title game against Lincoln of Tallahassee -- but Ely certainly made a name for himself as well.

Never leave home without it

The term "money in the bank" might be applied to the tradition-laden football team in Steubenville, Ohio. Big Red football has been around since 1900 and has recorded over 700 wins with 24 unbeaten regular seasons, including the last six. It also has three state playoff championships plus three runner-up finishes, including 2008. Now a financial institution has taken the local interest in Big Red football to a new level: Huntington Bank now offers debit cards featuring the Big Red team logo.

Mark Tennis is the deputy sports editor of ESPN RISE. Doug Huff is a senior editor of ESPN RISE.