Greetings, Lion fans. Normally, This would be a summary of the Blue/Gold game, but, because of public health concerns, the game has been canceled. Hopefully, September 2nd, the season will open, at full capacity, in Pueblo, Colorado, against a thorn in the Lions side the past few years, Colorado State-Pueblo. Until then, as the great Blackie Sherrod would’ve written, “Scattershooing while…” with some thoughts on what Brian and I have come to call “Hawkins Magic.”
Before his untimely passing in January of 2018, Ernest Hawkins was the master of the upset. To pull out victory not as a result of a miraculous comeback, but in winning when few thought possible, against all odds, Hawkins was the most comfortable. From the 7-6 win that snapped the long Texas A&I win streak, the national championship triumph over Carson Newman on cold, gray December day in Commerce, to the 3-0 shutout over the eventual National Champion, ,again Texas A&I, Ernest Hawkins was a true wizard of the blacklands that always seemed to be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat.
When he passed, there were many glowing tributes and stories recalled, mine among them. While Hawkins was sure to be missed in the physical sense, our thoughts were that he would always be there in spirit. A man like that who devotes his almost his entire life to one school and community never truly goes away.
So, just what would the term “Hawkins Magic” mean, and how would it be defined? On the surface, it would be hard to say, but for those of us who knew him and played for him, it would be a little easier to see. The unexpected defensive masterpiece. The last minute drive for a winning score. That sudden gust of wind that blows an opponent’s game winning field goal just wide, or the defender that jumps just high enough to barely scrape the ball with a finger, that deflects a kick, or trips up a runner.
There are two perfect examples that can be cited here……the season opener in 2018 against a upcoming Texas A&M-Kingsville team(somehow, these moments always seem to come against what all time Lion great Billy Minor called the PIggies). The Lions were coming off a national champion year, and were now the hunted. Colby Carthel was forced to replace an all time great quarterback, retooling an offense, and replacing a defensive coordinator.
And what a battle it was. The Lions, struggling on offense in the first half, fell behind, rallied, then fell behind again. Regrouping at the half, they took the lead again, and again fell behind by two scores at two different points in the second half. Preston Wheeler, though, brought the Lions back yet again. Scoring with seconds to play to force overtime, it took a failure on a Javelina extra point attempt that allowed the Lions to escape with a 37-36 win. From all appearances, the Lions were done in that game. DONE. Somehow, something clicked. The offensive line plugged the leaks, and gave Wheeler time. The backs found holes. The defense made key stops, and Kristov Martinez was true on every kick.
Fast forward to the 2019 season. Again, the Lions were in a state of flux. David Bailiff was in his first year in replacing the legend that was Colby Carthel. The Lions were good, but just how good were they? Come November, in the first round of the playoffs, we were about to find out.
Tarleton State had developed into one of the most intense and bitter rivals of the Lions. They were good. They knew it. What was most annoying was, they also like to let you they were. When a spoiled, arrogant fan base was added to that, well, it was really tough to come up short against them. The Texans had won three straight over the Lions, including a narrow 2018 playoff second round loss made all the more frustrating by the fact that the Lions were driving with time, and in a position to take the lead before a game killing sack/fumble. In the 2019 regular season, a questionable official’s decision on a Lion fumble returned for a touchdown that swung the game to Tarleton just added to the frustration, and led David Bailiff to call for instant replay for all Division II games.
Coming into that game, the Texans were riding high, despite being disappointed in not securing the number one seed in the region, and being forced to play the Lions yet again, this time in the first round. The consenseus in Stephenville was, “we’ll walk through these playoffs, never leaving home, then take a short trip to McKinney, win a title, then it’s off to Division I.” Well, not on this day.
If you look closely, Ernest Hawkins’s fingerprints were all over this one. An early turnover, by the Lions was negated by a tough defensive stand that forced a field goal. The Blue Gang defense was relentless. Every play was a street fight, and every inch was fought for. The offensive line opened holes for Jemal Williams and Antonio Leali’ee, and Miklo Smalls made huge plays with both his arm and his feet. And, backed up on a 3rd down and 15 play with under nine minutes left, and the Lions clinging to a precarious three point margin, Smalls, on a play that only someone with the guile of Ernest Hawkins would call, hit Ryan Stokes on a 18 yard crossing route that gave the Lions a first down, enabling them to change field position and run the clock down, dealing the Texans not only the first loss in their newly renovated stadium, but their final loss as a member of Division II. Somewhere, Ernest Hawkins, probably sitting right next to the equally legendary Boley Crawford, was smiling.
Hawkins Magic. The Man himself may be gone, but if you look closely ,he’s always there. As he should be.