'04 champs share bond with current Comanches
Dec. 17, 2013 at 6:17 a.m.
Updated Dec. 18, 2013 at 6:18 a.m.
CLASS 1A, DIVISION I State Championship
• WHAT: Shiner (11-3) vs. Stamford (13-1)
• WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington
• WHEN: 10 a.m. Thursday
• TV: Fox Sports Southwest
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SHINER - In 2004, cellphones started to become a familiar high school accessory, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, and the Federal Communications Commission put a stop to racy Super Bowl halftime performances after a wardrobe malfunction.
And it was the last time Shiner won a Class 1A state championship trophy.
That Comanches team in 2004 was the first to win a state title in 18 years.
Chase O'Connor, who was a senior starter on defense that season, said this year's team is not that much different than the one he played on.
"There are a lot of similarities with the team now and the team in '04," O'Connor said. "We were underdogs going into that season - there weren't a lot of expectations for us."
After going to the state championship game the year before in 2003 and losing to Windthorst by one point, O'Connor said the Comanches were hungry for a second chance.
"We lost quite a few people from the year before, but going into the season, we planned game by game," he said. "At the beginning, it was shaky - a lot like this season with these guys. Then we started to click, and the rest is history."
Shiner defeated Stratford on Dec. 18, 2004, in Wichita Falls by a score of 33-19.
In the game, Shiner scored twice in the first quarter and once in each of the next three quarters.
Though Stratford had more than double the amount of first downs than Shiner (19 to 8), the Comanches rushed 36 times for 202 yards.
Stratford scored on an 88-yard pass early in the first quarter, which could have easily swayed the game.
But the Comanches had other plans.
Running back Chris Baer returned the following kickoff for 88 yards into the end zone, which quickly tied up the game.
O'Connor remembered that play as one of the most incredible he had ever witnessed.
"We couldn't have gone to the state championship game without Chris; he ran a kickoff back and broke a tackle at the 30- or 40-yard line. He should have gone down. I don't know how he stayed on his feet," O'Connor said. "But it really hits you when you get the ball back with 30 seconds left. The QB takes a knee, and you take victory formation - that's really sweet."
O'Connor was part of Shiner's well-known strong defense and stopped a Stratford two-point conversion in the third quarter.
Baer remembers having fun battling for the championship.
Losing state as a junior, Baer said there was no lack of motivation for the 2005 seniors.
"To come back and win every game - we were undefeated going into the state game," Baer said. "We knew we needed to grasp that opportunity, and realizing we were at the state championship game was really exciting."
This was the first state championship for coach Steven Cerny, who was hired two seasons after Shiner won it for the first time ever in 1986.
Baer called Cerny "pretty serious back in our day."
"He was always kind of a serious coach getting us to the games, but he encouraged us to play loose and play excited," Baer said. "(He told us) to relax and be able to play the game you've played all year."
Baer ran for 128 yards that game, had four touchdowns and was named the Most Valuable Player of the game.
With a season total of 2,120 yards rushing and 40 touchdowns, Baer said the extra games helped him capitalize on college football at Trinity University in San Antonio.
"A lot of college players don't get to have that high school opportunity to get to play in the playoffs every year or go deep in the playoffs," Baer said. "The competitive drive that you get from playing in those types of games prepares you for any future football that you get to play."
Baer stayed in San Antonio after college, married his wife, Christyn, and is now a dad to 5-month-old Ellison.
Though he's lived in the Alamo City for more than 10 years, Shiner will always be his hometown, he said.
O'Connor recently moved back to Texas from Omaha, Neb., which he is happy about.
"(I was) definitely ready (to get back to Texas)," O'Connor said. "I just can't handle the snow, the weather up there."
Baer, O'Connor and Baer's father, Scott, will be traveling to Arlington to watch the Comanches (11-3) take on Stamford (13-1) at 10 a.m. at AT&T Stadium.
O'Connor dug his purple jersey out and will bring it along.
"Hopefully, some of my purple jersey mojo will rub off," O'Connor said, laughing.
Scott Baer said the community never says, "Are we going to playoffs?" It's always, "How deep are we going into playoffs?"
"Most schools don't get the chance to do this kind of thing," he said. "You get past a certain point - everyone's a Comanche fan."
O'Connor, who keeps his state championship ring in a box, agrees.
"You go from Week 1 in scrimmages, and it's the talk of the town. Week by week, more and more people start to show up," he said. "Smaller school, smaller town, but we do a great job of filling the stadium. They're behind you, rooting for you - there's something special down there. It's one of a kind for sure."