Twenty years ago, Bulldogs chisled out state title pedigree

The great flat and wide state of Texas will crown a whole new batch of state champions this weekend— I can’t remember how many we’re up to now, 20 or 25.

But it’s hard to comprehend that it was 20 years ago that the Thorndale Bulldogs captured that very first state championship that spawned a state title pedigree that is now up to seven crowns and counting.

It all started with a coach that had come from a program where he had gone 15-25 in four years.

(Coincidently, that school was Lake Travis and the Cavaliers are angling for their third state championship on Saturday.)

In his stay up the road a piece, Don Cowan attained legendary status by stacking up two more golden footballs in 1994-95.

From 1965 through 1973, Thorndale football was 26- 57-7

The 1989 Bulldogs possessed all the intangibles that great teams are made of.

They were fast, but also powerful. That translated into the Ware brothers, John and Jackie, who were the perfect compliment to each other.

Cowan Cowan At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, there weren’t many Class A down linemen who could get a grip on that bulldozer John.

And while defenders were dusting themselves off after being steamrolled by John, not many defensive backs could run down Jackie when he angled around the edge.

Fleet-footed quarterback Michael Street drove the engine.

Scott Holder was a sophomore lineman on that team and later returned as a coach to lead the Bulldogs to one of the seven crowns, in baseball in 2005. He is now the head baseball coach at Cuero, where his Gobbler team was No. 1 in Class 3A for most of 2009.

“The 89’ team had a backfield that would compare with any 5A state championship caliber team these days,” he remembered. “ Jackie Ware ran a high 4.3 and could have very easily been a D-1 running back if not for injuries during his senior season.”

Scott Holder played and coached on Thorndale state championship  teams. Scott Holder played and coached on Thorndale state championship teams. And clearing the way, were Gavin Biar, Jamie Buzan, Justin Hood, Bobby Niemtschk, Ken Menzel and John Pelzel.

None were over 180 pounds but they controlled the line of scrimmage like train conductors.

Not to mention the lockdown defense that allowed just over 50 points all season. Well, on second thought, let’s mention them.

“A defense that would keep the ambulance ready and on call throughout the game,” Holder said. “Most teams were lucky to get past the fifty much less score on them. Gavin Biar, Benny Hernandez, Justin Hood and Jamie Buzan are still the best LB combo that I have ever seen or coached against in 10 years of coaching.

“This team had that chemistry... had that leadership... had that formula...and most importantly had the hunger to put it into action day in and day out.”

In 1989 Cowan’s No. 3 ranked Bulldogs went to play No. 2 Bartlett with both teams undefeated in district and 7-0 on the year.

What transpired that night, in front of an overflow crowd that stood four to five layers deep in back of the end zone, was one the greatest high school football games ever.

Trailing 24-19, Thorndale went on a 72-yard drive that ended with John Simank cradling a 6-yard pass between two defenders in the end zone.

This score turned out to be the difference but the game was not secure until Jackie Ware intercepted a Bartlett pass at Thorndale’s 39 yard line with a 1:17 to play.

“It was a wild one,” Cowan said. “It was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been involved with.”

Thorndale and Bartlett would fight it out again before the season was through.

The Bartlett victory would propel the Bulldogs into the post-season where they would seek-and-destroy five playoff opponents to the tune of 194- 37, including a 21-7 win over old friend Bartlett in the third round.

In the state finals against 15-0 Sudan, Thorndale found itself trailing (14-7) for only the second time all season and the first time since the regular season Bartlett contest.

The Bulldogs then embarked on a 35-point surge to secure the school’s first state championship and a 15-0 record in 20-degree weather on a frozen Shotwell Stadium field in Abilene.

“The hunger that team had was unreal,” Holder recalled “The work ethic that was demonstrated even football season started was indescribable. You had ninety percent of the team in the weight room in the summer killing themselves without being told to do so.

“When you have that hunger.... on combination with that much talent...there is no stopping that machine. The group of seniors in 89’ were unbelievable leaders. They instilled a “work ethic” and “losing is not an option” attitude that bled down into every player on that team. It is funny when you think of it.”

Since then, there have been the two aforementioned football titles (1994-95), but the Bulldog baseball team also chalked up a couple in 1996 and 2005, joined in recent years by Cowan hire Jeff Lieberman’s back-to-back basketball crowns in 2007 and 2008.

Cowan, with 174 career wins, just stepped down Monday as head coach at Austin private school St. Andrews after an 0- 10 season and was replaced by former Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer.

Only Gordon Wood (9), G.A. Moore (8), Art Briles (4), Todd Dodge (4) and D.W. Rutledge (4) have won more titles than Cowan.

Before he left for Manor in 1996, Cowan racked up 111 wins (including 32 in a row) in 11 seasons in Thorndale.

“All the things I’ve talked about in combination with having a coach like Coach Cowan,” said Holder. “Coach Cowan was a motivator like no other. He instilled a belief where there was no question whether you were going to win the game or not, that was not an option. It was how bad we were going to beat this team up.”

The ground work and influence he left behind is still resonating around Bulldog Stadium as well as the state of Texas.

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