Friday Night Fútbol (cont.)
Allen coach Tom Westerberg had looked everywhere -- Texas, Florida, Georgia -- to fill the hole in the Eagles' schedule after their Week 1 opponent dropped them. "Who you need to call," Brownsville district athletic administrator Joe Rodriguez told Westerberg last March, "is Prepa Tec." Westerberg didn't have clue about the Mexican powerhouse. But within a month he was shaking hands and signing a contract with Borregos coach Rodríguez for a game this year and next.
On Sept. 4 Westerberg's players lined up to greet the Borregos in the Allen cafeteria. A table full of Dickey's BBQ, the Eagles' typical pregame meal, awaited. Allen sat the players together according to position; Nwachukwu, nicknamed Eazy, ate up his barbecue while saying just how much Prepa Tec receiver Ignacio Guerra, wearing a USC cap, seemed "just like me!" At another table Allen athletic director Steve Williams had red gift bags labeled with the names of the Tec players. Guerra rifled through his bag and yanked out the commemorative juego de fútbol americano T-shirt and the red-framed sunglasses with allen printed on the sides but stopped at the sight of the Chick-fil-A toy cow holding a sign that read eat mor chikin. "What," asked Guerra, who like almost all of the Borregos is bilingual, "is this?"
"You know, the chicken," said Eazy, the Indiana-born, Texas-raised son of Nigerian immigrants. "Like the chicken dance."
Guerra looked even more perplexed.
"You know, the chicken dance," Eazy said, and he started to move his legs and flap his arms. A crowd instantly circled him and joined in. Prepa Tec cornerback Álcides Benítez commenced, booty shaking, to steal the spotlight. Three hours before kickoff Allen and Prepa Tec were already going at it -- not in a game of downs but in a game of get down. Westerberg and his assistants laughed so hard that they held their stomachs, but off to the side Rodríguez and his staff sat stone-faced. They hadn't come this far to win some dance-off.
The escadrille, Allen's band, drill team and color guard, almost 600 strong, had spent two weeks practicing Mexico's Himno Nacional. Five minutes before kickoff the band hit the opening chord of the anthem, and a group of Borregos parents waved the Mexican flag. Prepa Tec officials had spotted the flag during warmups and warned the parents to put it away. "This," the officials said, "is not a war."
On their side of the stadium Allen administrators were doing their best to suppress any jingoistic displays. They seized sombreros and confiscated border patrol T-shirts from students. They stopped a "U-S-A!" chant after an Allen touchdown. The Eagles, decked out in their school colors of navy, white and a touch of red, didn't hear any nationalism from Westerberg, who was more concerned about erasing the memory of their exit from the first round of last year's playoffs after a 10-0 regular season. But in the player-led team meetings earlier in the week Terrell, the prized defensive back, had told his fellow Eagles, "This is our Olympics."
En route to Texas, Prepa Tec players bunched in the back of the bus had all laughed as Mauricio Salazar, the linebacker who'd be responsible for pressuring the Allen quarterback, said, "They expect us to show up on burros, with a sombrero."
"Drinking tequila!" chimed in a teammate.
Prepa Tec running back Diego Villarreal didn't have a donkey, but he got on his horse at 7:30 p.m. sharp and returned the opening kickoff about 50 yards to the Allen 44. This, it appeared, was going to be a game. But Tec's 35-yard field goal attempt drifted wide, and after that its play went flat. Brown, Allen's quarterback, needed only six plays to find Eazy in the end zone with 7:13 left in the first quarter. One minute and 42 seconds later Allen running back Jeremy Reeves muffed a punt reception, recovered it at the Eagles' 34 and then broke four tackles on a 66-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0.
The Borregos struck back in the second quarter with a 12-play, 61-yard touchdown drive that ended with quarterback Jorge Sánchez's pass to Guerra in the end zone. But Allen would score three more times before intermission. "They're p------ on us! Look at the score," screamed Tec senior safety Alejandro Fabel as the Borregos headed to the locker room trailing 35-7. "This is a humiliation."
It would only get worse. Allen needed all of two plays and 49 seconds to score again in the third quarter. There is no mercy rule in Texas football, but that doesn't mean there's no mercy. Westerberg tried to empty his bench. The Eagles still drubbed Prepa Tec 55-15.
What do you say when you've come so far and lost so badly? Rodríguez cleared his throat and addressed his players, all bent on one knee along the sideline. "I sincerely believe we're better than what we showed tonight," he said. "We're going to learn from our errors and move ahead." The Escadrille was still playing Allen's anthem. "When you're down," Rodríguez stressed, "is when you've got to get up even faster."
The Borregos tucked their bloodied jerseys and bruised egos back on the bus. As it pulled away, headed for Mexico, everyone aboard thought about how much farther he had to go.