Three decades ago on a night in December, the Burnet and Marble Falls high school football teams faced off at Lion Stadium in Leander in the quarterfinal round of the Class 3A playoffs. The winner would hold onto its dream of playing for a state title.
It was one of the classic contests in the 100-plus game history of the Burnet County rivalry between the two schools.
In the University Interscholastic League record books, the two teams played to a 14-14 tie on Dec. 6, 1991. Burnet advanced by reaching the Mustangs’ 20-yard line more times than Marble Falls reached it on the Bulldogs’ side.
While it’s a small notation in the storied Texas high school football record books, players, coaches, and fans know it as the “Game of the Century.”
“It doesn’t hurt nearly as bad,” said former Marble Falls cornerback Leno Garza, a 1993 graduate, as he recalled the loss. “Time heals everything. I enjoy talking about it because it’s such a great game. When it comes up in conversation, I love to talk about it.”
For the Bulldogs, the win was sweet, even 30 years later.
“It meant as much to us winning that game as going to the state championship,” said Terry Kircus, a 1993 Burnet High School graduate who played that night. “I talk to teammates and coaches and friends and family. It does come up in conversation. I’m sure if it went the other way around, it would have been heartbreaking for us. When it comes down to one play, it can go either way.”
This was the second matchup of the year between the two teams. During the regular season, Burnet beat the Mustangs 27-13.
After that game, the two teams shook hands, and Mustangs head coach David Denney told his players that if they took care of business, they’d meet the Bulldogs again in the playoffs.
He was correct.
In the quarterfinal game, Marble Falls struck first when they got great field position on Burnet’s 36-yard line after a Bulldogs punt floundered in the wind.
On the fourth play of the drive, Marble Falls sophomore fullback Shon Alexander ran for a 24-yard touchdown.
The two teams exchanged scoreless possessions throughout the rest of the first half, even with Burnet reaching the Mustangs’ 5-yard line in the second quarter before the drive stalled.
Nobody knew it at the time, but that possession would play a vital role in determining which team advanced.
Opening the second half with a 7-0 lead, the Mustangs, led by quarterback Paul Moore, went 73 yards on 11 plays for another score.
Moore connected on short passes — three going to Cork Ribera — to set up the Mustangs in scoring position. Then, tailback Jamie Graham punched it in from the 4-yard run.
In a 14-0 hole, the Bulldogs started to dig their way out.
Burnet quarterback Mitchell Maxwell took charge, marshaling his offense down to the Marble Falls’ 10-yard line. Kircus ran for a touchdown to cut the deficit in half.
“We did a good job of staying close,” said former Bulldogs running back Noel Lowe. “We knew Marble Falls better than anyone else.”
With 9:43 left in the game, Burnet got the ball on its own 7-yard line off of a Mustangs punt.
Ninety-three yards away from tying the game, the Bulldogs never flinched. Even when they found themselves in a fourth-down situation with the game on line, Burnet did not punt. Instead, Maxwell found senior tight end Chris Scott for a first down.
The Bulldogs kept plugging along, converting two third downs and one more fourth down, eventually pushing their way to the Mustangs’ 1-yard line, where fullback Phillip Massoletti punched it in with 1:09 left on the game clock.
“We were on them early, but they came back and tied it up,” recalled former Mustang Mark Cummings, who played in the game.
The Mustangs tried a long field goal late in the game, but it failed.
At the end of the contest, the scoreboard showed a 14-14 tie, but that second-quarter possession when Burnet pushed to the Mustangs’ 5-yard line proved to be the difference. Under UIL rules at the time, the tiebreaker went to the team with more penetrations to or beyond their opponent’s 20-yard line. That drive gave Burnet a 3-2 edge in penetrations and punched their ticket to the next round of the playoffs.
Rob Cormier, a member of the Marble Falls team, could only watch from the sidelines. He had dislocated his shoulder earlier in the year, forcing him to sit out the season.
Cormier recalled watching the Mustangs’ final drive leading up to the failed field goal attempt. One play in particular, an end-around that he believes the Mustang would have scored on if he had run over the defensive back instead of around him — was tough. That was Cormier’s play.
Oddly enough, Burnet won on penetrations in its semifinal game against Southlake Carroll and faced Groesbeck in the title game at the Houston Astrodome.
Groesbeck took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, which proved to be all they needed to win the championship.
All the Mustangs could do was watch and think what if, player Leno Garza said.
“What hurt me the most that year, we in Marble Falls had a chance to win a state championship,” he said. “Groesbeck didn’t have a great secondary. They were great against the run, and Burnet ran the ball. I think we would have had a chance. Not to take anything away from Burnet. They proved they were the better team in district.”
All the men agreed that playing on those teams has created a bond.
“There’s not a single guy on that team who wouldn’t hold your hand to help you up,” Massoletti said of his Burnet teammates.
“The entire season, it impacts you the rest of your life,” Cummings said. “You succeed in sports and athletics, and when you develop that level of teamwork and community, it puts you on a path for success. You know what hard work is. That’s the value of all sports.”
Burnet and Marble Falls meet for the 105th time on Friday, Sept. 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium in Burnet.