Lone Star Gridiron

The First UIL State Championship!

Friday Night Legends

Houston Heights vs Cleburne 1920

Friday Night Legends is a series of articles that will highlight great matchups of the past featuring legendary Texas high school football teams. It is sponsored by the board game Friday Night Legends- a new game that allows you to play some of the great teams of the past against each other and against current squads.

We wanted to kick off our Friday Night Legends series of articles with the first ever University Interscholastic League (UIL) State Championship. Before this first title matchup, teams around the state finished the regular season undefeated and each claimed to be the best in the state. It was time to put a system into place to settle it each year.

After a tumultuous start, the UIL was standing solid by 1920 and it was decided to have a formal state championship game. It was in 1920 that a true race for a title trophy finally existed. Prior to that, teams would play "Frank's Business School" or the local "YMCA B Team" and brag that they went undefeated. This year, 198 UIL schools competed against each other to see who was best. The champions in North Texas faced off against the champions in South Texas for the title.

It was actually January of 1921 by the time the title game was played. It featured undefeated Houston Heights (9-0) facing off against Cleburne (10-0) on a rainy Saturday morning. Both teams were defensive powers. Heights gave up just over 2 points per game while Cleburne allowed 3 per contest.  Strong defenses, strong running games and a sloppy mud-soaked field made sure this would be a low scoring affair.

In the first half, Cleburne appeared to have the upper hand early as they moved the ball but were unable to score. Heights looked to break the deadlock in the second. Houston's Glyndon Parmlee completed the biggest pass of the day down to William McCready at Cleburne's 7. After two runs without much, Coach Duke Willing brought in Captain Bruder, a runner he had been saving for just such occasion. Bruder pushed them down to the 1 and looked liked points were inevitable. On fourth and goal at the 1 yard line, Welling again called Bruder's number but  Cleburne's Joe Rhome stuff the run for a loss and Cleburne took over.

After a quick Cleburne punt, Heights threatened again, passing down to the 12 yard line. The next play however, Blue Smith, Cleburne's star player intercepted the ball to preserve the 0-0 score.

Cleburne never abandoned the pass and actually ended up with more passing yards, but Heights continued to knock everything out of the sky at key moments. They finally connected on a 25 yard in the 3rd quarter and looked ready to break the tie. With the ball on their own 20, the Heights defense stiffened and ground down the drive.

Each defense would give up yard in the middle of the field and each time, they would hold the line when scoring seemed a possibility. The contest then became mired in incomplete passes, fumbled balls, and missed field goal attempts.

The game was hard-fought and anyone's to win right to the very end. In the fourth quarter, Cleburne's Smith returned a punt 60 yards but they were ruled offside and it was negated. The game ended with Houston driving at the Cleburne 30. As this was before the implementation of tie-breaking rules or even before the "penetrations" rule, the UIL had two official co-champions in the first Texas high school football title game.

by Chris Doelle

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