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Looking Back at the 2002 Bulldog State Championship

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As the Bandera football team prepares to take on Young Men’s Leadership Academy Friday night in the final home game of the 2022 season, the Bulldogs will celebrate the history of the football program’s greatest accomplishment – the 2002 state championship.

Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Joel Fontenot-Amedee made it a priority this year to recognize and honor the 20th anniversary of the 2002 football team bringing a state championship home to Bandera. The Bulldogs have commemorative decals on their helmets recognizing the accomplishment, and members of the 2002 team will be honored at halftime of Friday night’s game.

“It was a no brainer to honor the 2002 team this year,” Fontenot-Amedee said. “I’ve met with Coach Williamson several times since coming to Bandera and have always been blown away with his stories about how they positioned themselves to pursue a state championship, and then achieved the ultimate goal for every high school football program in the state of Texas. Believe it or not, most schools in Texas do not have a state championship trophy in their trophy case, and we do.

“I feel unbelievably blessed and proud to be in Bandera at this time where we get to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the most successful team in Bandera history.”

The 2002 season was a special one in Bandera, but the Bulldogs had to overcome quite a bit to before reaching the pinnacle of Class 3A Division II. Bandera finished third in a loaded district behind traditional powers Liberty Hill and Burnet, and the Bulldogs needed wins over Wimberley and Llano in the final two regular season games to even clinch a spot in the postseason.

Once in the playoffs, though, the Bulldogs caught fire. Robert Ickes returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the team’s first-round playoff game against La Vernia, setting the tone for a 45-21 win. In the second round, a 4th down stand inside the 40-yard line helped the Bulldogs hold off Altair Rice in a tightly contested 37-34 win.

In the regional final, the Bulldogs were able to edge Port Isabel 27-24 thanks in large part to AJ Caza blocking a punt and recovering it for a touchdown to give Bandera the lead late in the third quarter.

In the state quarterfinals, running back Dustin Heep ran all over Yoakum while the Bulldogs’ defense wreaked havoc from start to finish in a dominant 31-14 win. The onetwo punch of Heep, who rushed for 2,088 yards and 25 touchdowns that season, and Brett Hicks, who threw for over 2,595 yards and 29 touchdowns, gave Bandera a potent and balanced offensive attack that was hard for opposing teams to slow down.

“We knew we had something special going into the year,” Hicks said. “However, we experienced some growing pains early on and had a rash of injuries to overcome. It took longer than expected for things to get rolling but we had the luxury of beating you with the run or pass. That was pretty rare back then to be able to beat people so many different ways. There were times that defenses schemed against the pass like Yoakum did, so we gashed them on the ground. When teams brought extra men in the box to stop the run, we would air it out. Teams had to pick their poison back then but there was no stopping us when we got it rolling.”

The Bulldogs got rolling quickly against Bellville and jumped out to a 10-7 lead through two quarters before outscoring Bellville 14-0 in the third and coasting to a 24-13 victory. Heep again helped the Bulldogs’ grind out the clock with 26 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown while quarterback Brett Hicks connected with tight end Cody Fields on a pair of touchdown passes from 11 yards and 4 yards out.

“It was good to get another crack at Bellville after they knocked us out the year before,” Fields, who is now the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator, said. “We reloaded and had so many weapons that it made my job easy when teams loaded up to stop Dustin. I just had to get open and Brett was going to get the ball to me. It was just icing on the cake for it to be the game that got us into the championship.”

The big win over Bellville set up a showdown against Midland Greenwood in the state championship game. With over 7,800 people in attendance to see both teams competing in their first state title appearance, the Bulldogs led 17-14 late in the fourth quarter and needed a goal-line stand to keep Greenwood out of the endzone and force a 19-yard field goal that sent the game to overtime.

Scotty Jennings caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Brett Hicks in the first overtime period, but the Rangers answered and tied the game at 24-24 to force a second OT period. Greenwood missed its field goal attempt, and Jennings sent the Bandera faithful into a frenzy when he drilled a 37yard field goal to deliver a state title back to the Cowboy Capital of the World.

“Now, we’ve got something to hang our hat on in Bandera,” Bandera coach Mike Williamson told the Plainview Herald after the win.

The state championship win is recognized on the Bandera water tower and is celebrated as a key piece of history in the small town. While the Bulldogs have experienced some hardship on the football field in the years since winning that state championship, things have started to turn the corner again in recent years.

With a win over Pearsall two weeks ago, Bandera (6-2) will finish the 2022 season with a winning record for only the fifth time since the program won the state title back in 2002. Three of those five winning seasons have come in the last four years. The Bulldogs went a combined 18-71 from 2010 to 2018 but have turned that around in the last four seasons while posting a 20-19 record.

“I can’t speak for the years before we arrived here in Bandera, but we haven’t taken any shortcuts in building this program,” Fontenot-Amedee said. “We have had great kids and parents in this program for the past four years, who have embraced the vision of our school district and athletic program. We built this thing with the long term in mind at every step, not just the short term. We went for the long rebuild. It has taken patience and a lot of hard work by our football players and coaches. We began by building up and investing more in our middle school program. We’ve invested in creating great experiences for our players. Because of this, our numbers will continue to increase in the football program which is a huge part of the overall success of the program.

“I’m confident that we are building this program to sustain success over a long period of time and am very proud of what we have accomplished so far. We are just getting started.”

As Bandera continues its push to make a playoff run this season, the Bulldogs will spend time with the 2002 team before kickoff Friday night and will honor the state champs at halftime.

Kickoff for Friday night’s game against YMLA is set for 7:00 pm.

“I’m so excited to have those guys with us this week,” Fontenot-Amedee said. “I get to see one of them every day, and I love hearing all the stories from our offensive coordinator Cody Fields about the good ole days. I can’t wait to meet all the individuals who made up this team. It is a great reminder for our current players that a group of young men came through the same halls as them and were able to win a state championship.”