Week 18 (Florida)
Normally, my high school football odyssey has ended with the final Texas UIL championship game. However, this year there was a new event taking place the last Saturday of the year.
Earlier this year, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) agreed to allow teams to participate in post-championship ‘bowl games’ against other states. Also, as part of they deal, they got to host the games. Despite the late start and the October approval, two states did allow their champions to participate. Those being Utah and Washington. Participation was entirely optional, and several teams of high ranking opted not to participate.
This left two games of suitable interest, and the third game, and earliest, simply to help fill the day. Paragon Marketing, an agency utilized by ESPN for high school matchups, created the “State Champions Bowl Series” to be a one-game interstate matchup of state champions. Burger King opted to sponsor it, which created a dueling identity. On twitter, it went exclusively as “Burger King Bowl”, while elsewhere it went as “Burger King State Champions Bowl Series”. Which was a bit wordy.
The games were scheduled to take place at Florida Atlantic’s FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida. Now, the games were scheduled for 12/27 just four days after the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl also being hosted at the same site. Again, ESPN owns the new Boca Raton Bowl, so the piggy-backing by the high school games is rather logical and not rather original.
For me, the trick was to make it from Arlington, Texas on Saturday night to Boca Raton, Florida early enough to catch the 6pm start of the Boca Raton Bowl. I had yet to see a bowl game in my life, and decided now would be the time. Also, it was two smaller schools that I’ve had an affinity for in the past. Marshall and Northern Illinois. The drive, if direct, would be done easily. But, I planned to drive through the three remaining counties of Alabama I’ve yet to have visited on the way.
The trip was rather uneventful. The three counties were in sparsely poulated parts of the state. The latter county led me to a toll ferry at Gees Bend. At $4, it was a short cut for those living in the Gees Bend area to town. Definitely a fun part of the trip over.
After cutting through southern Alabama on US84 to Dothan, it was south to Florida and then freeway the rest of the way. Monday night was a stop at Lake City, Florida and a 5 hour drive south on the Florida Turnpike to Boca Raton for the start of the bowl game.
Some things about the game. Tickets were a reasonable $27/each online with ‘no fees’. When you get your tickets, though, you see that the tickets are really $20 with $7 in fees. Had I known, I would’ve just purchased at the box office. Misinformation by the bowl that they had ‘sold out’ of the pricier tickets at midfield turned out to be false. Also, that 29,000 tickets were issues also seemed entirely unethical. About 10,000 or so were on hand for the game. It was a beautiful night for football, and Marshall won easily, 52-23.
After that, it was to our hotel in Pompano Beach, Florida. My girlfriend’s family was spending Christmas in Fort Lauderdale so it was a ‘kill two birds with one stone’ part of the trip. The 24th and 25th consisted of family time. Though the 26th was entirely open and we made the trip to the Florida Keys. I had been to Key West back in 2007, but my girlfriend had never ventured further south than Miami. Due to our late departure though, we only made it to Marathon before the sky was dark. We stopped for dinner at a place called “Castaways” on the waterfront. Their sushi bowl was great.
After that, it was a drive north back to Pompano Beach. One other hobby than clinching counties is clinching highways. So, both on the 26th and 28th was a drive down and around Miami to travel all the freeways and tollways in the area. However, Friday night it was back to Pompano to rest up for the Burger King State Champions Bowl Series the next day up at FAU Stadium.
Parking was the same price as the bowl game, a hefty $10 tab. Luckily, with the first game crowd drawing flies, parking was in the garage just southwest of the stadium. A nice breeze lasted throughout the day and the skies were overcast much of the time to make it really enjoyable weather.
Tickets were $10 each and the programs were complimentary. So, for two people to attend was a simple $30, or $5/game per person.
Another nice feature was that you were allowed to leave and reenter. However, we didn’t go that route. Mostly because we ate prior to the games and were planning on eating once at the stadium. Being able to see the place on Tuesday gave us an idea of how to kill time during halftimes and between games.
For the high school games, the stadium was cordoned off and only the seats between endzone to endzone was open on the ‘home side’. The television cameras were positioned in the seating bowl on the away side, giving a better ‘crowd’ for television down low. Also, the logo at midfield was a simple chalk paint over the Boca Raton Bowl logo at midfield. Green paint was used to cover the conference logos. The endzones simply read “BOCA RATON” in red. The same paint job used for the bowl game.
The stadium itself has a nice setup. Though there’s one glaring problem that I can’t believe they let into the design. First, when you enter you must climb steps on the home side to reach the mezzanine concourse. From the 40 to the 40, the food court area is open to the field. In front are the lower level seats descending to the field. The upper level from the food court requires you to climb either staircase on the edges of the food court and then double-back to the seating area. This design, though, means the landings before climbing up the seating bowl are obstructing the nearside view of the field if you sit too far low and some seats have horrible obstructions if you’re seated to the side of the landing. This has to be a horrible design flaw that could’ve been elminated.
As for the food court, it’s a nice open air setup with several beer vendors (not in use for the games) and other foods such as Dipn’Dots, a barbecue stand, and a stand selling lemonade and pizza. Also, near the front edge of the food court are barstool high counters you can sit at and watch the game. Though, they’re exposed to the sun. Further inside was setup many banquet tables with rather flimsy cheap folding chairs. This gave plenty of cool, breezy spaces to wait out for the next game to start or at halftime during the sunny moments.
At the game, the pulled pork sandwiches were well worth the $6 each and the gigantic pretzel was $9. This pretzel should not be attempted by a single person. It comes in a box the size of a medium 10″ pizza box, and the pretzel is about 3″ thick. It comes with three dipping sauces. It’s worth it if you have another person to share with.
Now, on to the games in order:
Trinity Christian (FL) 35, Eastside Catholic (WA) 21
This game got a lot of grief on twitter about the several aspects. First, these were two small parochial schools playing to simply fill in the three game schedule. A noon start for a team 300 miles away and the other team 3000 miles away meant a very small crowd. Throw in that they’re private schools, and attendance was only a few hundred. 300 may have been pushing it. ESPNU, the broadcaster, was only looking for filler. With only three states participating this inaugural year, and several teams opting out and some other ‘big names’ not winning their state titles, it left them with this game. Which was conveniently sacrificed at noon in the sun before a pathetic crowd.
Eastside Catholic may have just had jet lag, or Trinity Christian was just that good, but the 35-21 final wasn’t that indicative of the gap between these schools. Eastside held strong during the first half, managing to keep it tied at 14, but Trinity’s speed just slowly wore down Eastside as they were forced into mistakes.
Miami Central (FL) 37, Bothell (WA) 27
The second game of the day came out much better. Central raced to an early lead and held serve the rest of the way. A late touchdown by Bothell made it a respectable ten point game. Bothell had talent, but I think several factors contributed to the loss. The travel certainly played a rule as the team was a little slower in executing. Speed, though, was surprisingly good for them. The plays didn’t develope as fast for them and Central’s defense did a good job of making them force things. For a while, it worked, but it ended eventually.
Miami Booker T Washington (FL) 34, Bingham (UT) 28 (OT)
The best game of the day was the national finale. Bingham came in dominating on the ground and throwing in a 25yard touchdown pass. BTW, as they were called regularly on shirts and hats, was a much faster team offensively and passing suited their style. After a 7-7 tie after the first quarter gave way to a 14-14 tie at the half, Bingham finally looked like they would be able to win by sheer will, taking the 21-14 lead after three. BTW scored 1:19 into the fourth to tie it again. After some back and forth, Bingham had a decent drive end with a third down 1-yard touchdown run with 2:16 left in the game.
Then, they went into a prevent mode of defense trying to keep BTW’s burners in front of them and they chewed up the yards effortlessly. With 18 seconds left, BTW connected on a 14-yard pass for the touchdown trail 28-27. After the vaunted comeback, they went for the kick to setup the game for overtime.
With the last regulation play of the season over, we headed to the traditional NFHS overtime rules starting at the 10-yard line. Bingham opened with two plays gaining 5 yards. On a disasterous third down, a 14-yard sack set up a difficult 36-yard field goal attempt. That attempt was no good and Booker T Washington only needed to score now to win the game. First down went for five yards on the ground. And second down ate up the last five yards on another run to win the game, 34-28 in overtime. It was a sweep for Florida in the inaugural games.
After the game, it was back the hotel and to head out on Sunday. A brief stop at her family’s and then a late lunch at Kyojin Buffet. I liked this place because they had all-you-can-eat sushi for only $10. Considering the price of sushi, this was an exceptional deal. Sashimi, Nigiri, rolls of all kinds. If you’re in Fort Lauderdale, it’s a good place.
Also, just south was a place called the Quarterdeck, which is where we witnessed the thrilling end to the Bahamas Bowl between Western Kentucky and Central Michigan. At the time we arrived, the score was 49-14 and were confident that the game was over. However, as we ordered, ate, and watched, the Chippewas kept finding ways to score. And then on the most improbable finish imaginable, score what should’ve been the tying touchdown. Unfortunately, they went for two, and obviusly didn’t make it. Negating that epic finish. My mention of the Quarterdeck is the food. My girlfriend had the coconut shrimp, while I had clams and mussels. The clams were excellent, albeit a tad pricy. The mussels were decent but about what you’d expect.
After dinner at Kyojin Buffet, it was time to head north. Leaving out on the 28th, we didn’t arrive home until January 2nd in the evening. The biggest reason was to visit more counties in Georgia and to finish off South Carolina. Though I realized after the fact I had actually missed two counties in Georgia. Which irritates me. Then it was through Great Smoky Mountains National Park and to Blacksburg, Virginia for the last night of the year. On the first, we drove through the mountains of southeast West Virginia and northwest Virginia to also finish off the state of West Virginia. Our most expensive hotel on the entire three week trip was at the Super 8 in Elkins, WV. Despite the allure, it’s not a tourist destination and the pricing reflected that there wasn’t a competition to get guests. However, it was an early evening so we could watch the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowls. On the second was the last two counties of West Virginia in Grafton and Mineral before cutting through Maryland into Pennsylvania and home.
The entire trip for three week was 6,166 miles total. The total trip with hotels, gas, food, game tickets, etc cost $2637 plus tolls that I haven’t accounted for yet. Those included the EZ Pass and SUNPass tolls in Florida.
The Booker T Washington-Bingham game was my 127th high school football game attended this year. Easily surpassing my previous best of 100 the previous two years. Of those 127, only three were partial games. Beaver-Laurel was the late 3rd and all of the fourth quarter. The first game of the Barren County Bowl was suspended from the previous day in the middle of the second quarter. And I missed the first half of the first Sunday game in Week 2 in Syracuse, New York due to being absurdly sick. It’s the reason I didn’t stay for the Bishop Grimes-New York Mills games that night and only saw three games that day.
My girlfriend, on the other hand, has seen 114 games in person this season. She missed all 7 week zero games in Tennessee and Kentucky. She also missed the game in Massachusetts as I was there for work on that Wednesday and stayed for the Thursday night game. And then she missed the last game in Orchard Park in Week 11 on Saturday due to her being too cold and not feeling well herself. She did attend the three games on Saturday in Rochester and the four games in Syracuse on Sunday. And lastly, she missed the four Sunday games at MetLife Stadium. The first two days had considerable rain and cold wind and she wasn’t up to sticking around for the final day of games in the Garden State.
In the past four years, I’ve seen 73 games, 100 games, 100 games, and now 127 games. For a ridiculous 400 games in person in four years. The most games I could’ve physically have seen this year would’ve been about 140-150. Though I’m quite content to hold serve at 127. Next year I plan to attend games in more varied locales. I’d like to see a game in Alabama, Louisiana, as well as more in the New England states. Such as the six championships in Massachusetts, the three championships in Rutland, Vermont, or the Sunday championships in Rhode Island the week of the Massachusetts six games on Saturday.
I plan to write a recap of my entire season and post it as well. I should have that up sometime in the next day or so. Right now, I’ve been off work since December 11th. I’m currently buying a new house and plan on working again sometime after the College Football Championship game next week. Hopefully.
All in all, it’s been a banner year. Despite a divorce early in the year and meeting my new girlfriend in August. I’ve had a great time this season traveling the country. This spring, we’re taking a trip to Los Angeles and back across the northern tier including stops in Death Valley, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Lassen Volcanic, Craters of the Moon, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks. I’m figuring about three weeks for the trip. And then it’s football next season.
As for my other hobby of clinching counties, I’ve now been to every county in 33 states with Iowa, Alabama, South Carolina, and West Virginia added to the list this trip. I have only 295 counties left to go and 17 independent cities in Virginia. I’ve been to 2,831 total so far in my life.
Here’s my map:
Also, pictures will be up eventually at:
And videos of plays from games can be found on my Youtube channel: