1994 John Tyler vs. Plano East high school football game
|Date||November 26, 1994|
|Announcers||Eddy Clinton, Denny Garver, Mike Zoffuto|
On November 26, 1994, in a high school football playoff game in Texas, the Lions of John Tyler High School defeated the Panthers of Plano East Senior High School 48–44. The game drew national attention in the United States due to its wildly improbable and tumultuous finish, with five touchdowns scored in the last two and a half minutes (and seven in the last four and a half minutes), and it won the 1995 Showstopper of the Year ESPY Award.
The game was a Region II semifinal in class 5A Division II of Texas high school football and was played in Texas Stadium. The start time was 9:00 pm. Both teams had a 12–0 record up to that point in the season, and they were known for defense: John Tyler was giving up only 14 points per game on average, while Plano East was giving up less than nine. Plano East was ranked No. 2 in the state, and Tyler was ranked #3.
The first quarter ended in a 7–7 draw, but at halftime, the Lions had a 21–14 lead. In the third quarter, each team kicked a field goal, bringing the score to 24–17.
The Lions then scored a field goal early in the fourth quarter to make the score 27–17. Towards the end of the quarter, as the Panthers were first-and-goal, the ball was stripped from their quarterback and the resulting fumble was returned 90 yards for a touchdown and a 34–17 lead with 4:24 remaining. On the fourth play of the Panthers' next possession, another fumble was returned 36 yards for a touchdown, giving the Lions a seemingly insurmountable 41–17 lead with only 3:03 remaining. Many fans had already headed for the exits.
However, on a two-play 70-yard drive, the Panthers scored a touchdown to bring the score to 41–23 (after a failed two-point conversion) with 2:36 on the clock. The Panthers then successfully executed three onside kicks in a row, recovering the ball each time and then driving down the field for a touchdown on each occasion. The first touchdown drive took six plays (the two-point conversion was good: 41–31 with 1:29 left); the second also took six plays (the two-point conversion failed: 41–37 with 0:56 left); the final one was completed in three plays (the extra point was successful), giving the Panthers a 44–41 comeback lead with only 24 seconds remaining.
In a final twist, however, after the Panthers did a regular kickoff, the Lions' returner Roderick Dunn caught the ball at his own three-yard line and took it 97 yards for a touchdown at 0:11 and a 48–44 Lions victory. He was the very same player who had muffed the reception of the final two onside kicks.
Between the two teams, 48 points (seven touchdowns) in total had been scored in the game's final four and a half minutes. The Lions' offense never touched the ball again after their field goal early in the fourth quarter: their team's final 21 points were scored by the defense and special teams.
In American football, an onside kick is usually done only under dire circumstances because it has a low probability of success and in the event of failure the opposing team obtains very favorable field position. Successfully carrying out three onside kicks in a row is extremely difficult.
Carrying out a rapid touchdown drive, without letting too much clock time elapse, is also rather challenging but certainly feasible; however, doing so four times in a row in only two and a half minutes is almost unheard of. Finally, returning a kickoff for a touchdown is also fairly rare.
Overall, a considerable number of statistically rare events all occurred together within the game's closing minutes.
The Lions went on to win the 1994 state championship in 5A Division II, defeating Lake Highlands 27–7 in the Region II final, Arlington 45–20 in the state semifinals and Austin Westlake 35–24 in the state championship.
The game was originally broadcast locally on community-access Plano TeleCable, but was later rebroadcast nationally on ESPN2. Play-by-play announcers Eddy Clinton and Denny Garver, accompanied by guest commentator Mike Zoffuto (the Lake Highlands head football coach, who was scouting his team's next opponent), got a modest amount of temporary fame for their colorful, folksy, and highly partisan commentary during the comeback, including "Bingo bango bongo", "Good gosh almighty", "Break out the Oreos, baby", and "I done wet my britches".
When Plano East took the lead, Garver jubilantly proclaimed "the greatest comeback of all time", but soon Zoffuto was repeatedly exclaiming "Oh, no" as the final touchdown return unfolded, and then "I don't believe it. God bless those kids, I am sick, I want to throw up."
The broadcast commentary became part of the game's lore, and Clinton and Garver appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Friday, December 16, 1994 and did many radio interviews. Some sources mention that they also received roles as announcers in the movie Varsity Blues, reportedly at the suggestion of Jon Voight who had heard the tape; however IMDb does not credit them in the list of cast or crew.
Zoffuto had been asked to be guest commentator because he was the coach of the Lake Highlands team, which would meet the game winner the following week. On that occasion his team lost 27–7 in what would turn out to be the final game of his eight years as Lake Highlands coach. It was Zoffuto who reacted with memorably vocal dismay on the broadcast as the final kickoff was returned for a touchdown, and in later years he would tease Clinton and Garver that they owed their post-broadcast fame to him. As a coach scouting his next opponent and obviously not an actual Plano East fan, he explained his reaction by saying, "I could see it developing and what was going to happen. I really felt bad for those kids and it just came out." On another occasion, he stated that his team had lost an earlier game to Plano East on a controversial call, and he had wanted a chance for a rematch.
Eddy Clinton purchased the broadcast rights for the game for $200. On the tenth anniversary of the game, he released a DVD entitled "The Greatest High School Football Game of All Time". The advent of Internet video sites like YouTube added to the game's notoriety in later years.
Partial list of players
Morris Anderson, quarterback; Roderick Dunn, kickoff returner; Nico Hernandez, field goal kicker; Marc Broyles, defense; David Warren; Darwin Brown; Jesse Taylor; Mickey Jones; Taafee Hines; Michael Price; Quincy Stewart; Gary Baxter
Allen Wilson, coach
Jeff Whitley, quarterback; Jonathan Braddick, offense; Terence Green, offense and kicker; Robert Woods; Rico Hall; Kenny Reed; Kevin Coit
Scott Phillips, coach
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