South Oak Cliff High School football team wins state championship

From left: Quarterback Kevin Henry-Jennings, No. 8, earned Offensive MVP. Abdul Muhammad, No. 6, earned the Defensive Player MVP. – Photos by Diane Xavier/The Dallas Examiner

 

By DIANE XAVIER

The Dallas Examiner

 

The South Oak Cliff High School football team struck gold Saturday, bringing home the state champion trophy right before Christmas.

The South Oak Cliff Golden Bears won the UIL 5A Division II state championship by defeating the Liberty Hill Panthers, 23-14 on Dec. 18 in front of over 45,000 fans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

The victory and title has made SOC the first team in Dallas ISD to win a football championship since Booker T. Washington High School’s victory in 1958. The 1988 Carter High School football team’s state title was taken away from them due to a scandal involving ineligible players grades.

SOC head football coach Jason Todd kept his team focused throughout the entire season to help get his team the trophy. The team’s only loss this year was the first game when they lost to Duncanville, 27-42.

“When you think of state championships and going through some adversity for some of it to be at the end of the road like it was, this was a fitting end because it tested our character, the peaks and valleys we talked about all year,” Todd said. “So it was some of the things we discussed all year that we hadn’t experienced in the last couple of weeks that really came through for us in the end and we didn’t lose our focus.”

Quarterback Kevin Henry-Jennings led the team with 144 yards passing and two touchdowns. He helped SOC take a 14-0 lead quickly before Liberty Hill was able to tie the game by half-time.

Jennings was also motivated by the crowd attendance, which was considered historical as well. The 45,769 people who were at the game set a UIL record for most fans in UIL 5A Division II history.

“It means a lot because we did it with the whole Dallas fans and they had our back and we kept pushing,” Jennings said.

Push indeed they did. After a quick start for SOC football, Liberty Hill was able to storm back and tie the game at halftime. The Panthers dominated the running game with 276 total yards versus SOC’s 126 rushing yards.

However, mistakes cost the Panthers and SOC’s defense was able to step up and make key defensive stops to secure the win.

Todd explained why his team was unable to stop the run at a certain point during the game and what his team did to fight back and take over.

“We had to make some adjustments at half time, we weren’t getting lined up, minor tweaks there and that is a great team we went up against,” Todd said. “Our staff went back into that room and came up with a plan and the kids executed.

In the fourth quarter, SOC took the lead in the game with a field goal by kicker Diego Varela, making it 17-14 Golden Bears.

Then at 3:12 left to go, SOC’s Running Back Qualon Farrar rushed for a 17-yard touchdown run, making it 23-14.

Afterwards, on special teams, SOC’s Semaj’ere Gasaway forced a fumble on the kickoff return by Liberty Hill and got the ball back for the Golden Bears offense.

From there the offense was able to get a couple of first downs and ran out the clock to end the game and secure the state championship title.

Jennings, who is a senior and a signee with SMU, was the games Offensive MVP. Abdul Muhammad was named the Defensive MVP.

Todd was thankful that the entire Dallas community was behind the team on their march to the title game.

“The right thing going forward is if we get the whole city behind us. And that was what is big because it wasn’t just a South Oak Cliff thing, this is about Dallas and putting Dallas back on the map and showing that we could play ball with anybody else in the state of Texas,” Todd said. “It is kind of both getting all the guys in the community behind us with one goal, and we worked hard. You want to make sure at the end of the day that we achieved that goal which was to win a state championship.

“And now that we have, it is a sigh of relief because I went to the state championship once before as an assistant and came up short, so that is something that haunts you for the rest of your coaching career. So we have deep talks, we were sitting in the meeting room yesterday – these guys are the students, they are not just playing for themselves, but it has been a long lineage of talented guys, great coaches that have come through that maybe didn’t have the opportunities that these guys have had today. And I can say is they fought through the peaks and valleys, and they came through on top.”

Todd said he was impressed with the players’ discipline also.

“We had one goal all season and all guys were locked in. This is probably the most loose group of kids that I have been around because the pressure never got to them,” he said. “Like last night, if you saw them, they were just walking around the hotel. And when we said it was time for bed check, those guys were in the room, locked in and we were ready to go.”

This victory is also a birthday present for Todd, who will celebratie his birthday Dec. 22. But before that, the team will be celebrated during a parade Dec. 21.

“I have been following Dallas football my whole life,” Todd said. “I was at state when Carter [High School] won the state championship in 1988. I’m really like a Dallas historian. I’ve only coached in Dallas. I’ve only went to school in Dallas, so everything about me is Dallas born and bred, and I’m proud to be from Dallas.”

After the game, local residents expressed their elation.

“It means a lot for us to win because we haven’t won in a long time,” said Krystan Bennett, a ninth-grade student who attended the game with her friends.

Her friend, 11th grade student Shayla Anderson, agreed.

“It felt really good when South Oak Cliff lifted that trophy. I’m really proud of these boys,” Anderson said.

Another 11th grade student chimed in.

“This is a big accomplishment because we haven’t won in decades, it was a tough game, but it was good,” Cassandra Peters said.

Dwayne Traylor, who coaches track at SOC, said the football team winning the title was a win all around for everyone.

“It’s huge for the community,” Traylor said. “It’s huge for, not just Oak Cliff, but the entire DISD and DFW Metroplex – and everything really. It’s been a long time coming and we worked extremely hard year in and year out to get to this level and this finally happened – and it’s just absolutely incredible.”

Jennings said even though his team won the championship, the school’s work is not done.

“We just put it on the table next year that we will be back,” Jennings concluded.

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