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Denton High's 1987 football season still brings back great memories

Profile image for Randy Cummings
Randy Cummings, For the Denton Record-Chronicle

After 30 years, the memories have grown a little fuzzy and the details have gotten somewhat hazy. It has been, after all, three decades.

But with a little help from a scrapbook or maybe the mention of game specifics from newspaper microfilm, the emotions wrought by the Denton High School Broncos' 1987 football season — a perfect regular season followed by the school's deepest run ever in the state playoffs — slowly begin to surface.

And that's when the smiles, the pride and the tales begin to flow.

"We didn't have a bunch of superstars on the team," remembers Trey Logan, whose explosive on-field play from his linebacker position often traumatized opponents and easily earned him Defensive Player of the Year honors both locally and regionally.

"We just had solid players, good coaching and good execution on the field," he added. "That's what made us good."

Oh, and they were good, real good. Arguably the best Broncos football team ever assembled, the 1987 bunch rolled undefeated through District 5-5A play before sweeping to two more victories in the bi-district and area rounds of the playoffs. The Broncos brushed aside opponents with the exception of a brief scare at Wichita Falls High School — a one-point win — to take a 10-0 record into the postseason.

A first-round bi-district rematch against Fort Worth's Southwest High School, which Denton had beaten by 20 in Week 2, resulted in another lopsided win (41-10) for the Broncos. A trip to Texas Stadium — then the home of the Dallas Cowboys — the next week for an area round matchup with Haltom High School ended with Denton advancing with a 14-3 win.

Round 3 of the playoffs that fall brought what many consider to be the most hyped, anticipated and, ultimately, heartbreaking high school playoff football game ever to be played in Denton. Certainly, it goes down as the largest crowd to attend a postseason game in Denton, when nearly 19,000 packed into Fouts Field.

Broncos only game in town

The city of Denton was abuzz, since at the time the city was literally a one-horse (pun intended) town. And as the city's only high school, the Broncos enjoyed a community-wide fan base all to its own.

Eleven members of the 1987 Denton Bronco football team gathered recently outside the Jim Bateman Athletic Fieldhouse at Denton High for a 30th reunion of the team. Pictured is Bill Koberick, Stuart Mason, Lee Dean, Sam Pedigo, Chad Atkins, Matt Bateman, Patsy Bateman (wife of late head coach Jim Bateman), Todd Jensen, Doug Overstreet, Mitchell Borges and Raymond Redmon.Courtesy photo
Eleven members of the 1987 Denton Bronco football team gathered recently outside the Jim Bateman Athletic Fieldhouse at Denton High for a 30th reunion of the team. Pictured is Bill Koberick, Stuart Mason, Lee Dean, Sam Pedigo, Chad Atkins, Matt Bateman, Patsy Bateman (wife of late head coach Jim Bateman), Todd Jensen, Doug Overstreet, Mitchell Borges and Raymond Redmon.
Courtesy photo

"Looking back on it, it really was a magical season," said Mitchell Borges, who was a senior defensive back on the team. "I have good memories. The ride was so enjoyable. Looking back, it's the guys you played with, the chemistry we had.

"It really was a special time in my life," he added. "And I think it was in a lot of those guys' lives as well."

However, the magic went up in smoke one long, cold afternoon in late November at Fouts Field. A third-round meeting against the much-heralded "Mojo" of Odessa's Permian High School Panthers abruptly slammed the door on the Broncos season. A deflating 16-3 defeat closed the book on an otherwise improbable, yet amazing, season for a collection of kids and coaches who came together for a historic run through the fall of '87.

A weathered gold helmet showcasing a purple "D" on each side, surrounded by horseshoe stickers for game achievements, is on full display in the home of Matt Bateman, one of the team's strong safeties and the son of the Broncos' late head coach, Jim Bateman.

Matt Bateman's football helmet from Denton High School's 1987 season is displayed at his home.
Matt Bateman's football helmet from Denton High School's 1987 season is displayed at his home.

"One minute you're 12-0 and on top of the world and it's moving along, and then the next moment, it's over, just like that," said Bateman after rehashing the '87 season for an hour. "It's really hard when you know you're never going to play another down of football. You know you're never going to strap it on again."

Confident coach

Most will tell you the overriding success of the Broncos' 1987 season pivoted around the team's head coach. Described by Borges as "a player's coach," Jim Bateman was confident but somewhat soft-spoken, a coach who laid out goals and expectations and then went about strategically working toward achieving them.

He possessed an even-keeled personality that projected a calmness even in the most stressful moments of a game. And he knew how to coach winning football — DHS went 10-1-1 the previous season and, in fact, was 47-17-1 in the five playoff seasons leading up to the 1987 campaign.

Bateman had also surrounded himself with an experienced, cohesive group of assistants who coached an old-style, run-oriented wing-T offense that frequently wore down confused defenses that weren't used to the misdirection attack.

"What a quality person he was," said Tim Crouch, who was the play-by-play announcer for Denton's local cable TV outlet that televised tape-delayed broadcasts of all of the Broncos games that season. "His quiet confidence and persona helped prepare the team in a way that they felt really prepared."

Of course, Matt Bateman had the unique challenge of being one of his father's starting players on that team. He'd grown up around the Denton High field house and was also following two older brothers who had played for their dad, so Matt had already observed the father-son relationship in terms of football.

"The other coaches were harder on me than my dad was," Matt said. "They wanted to make sure that the other players didn't think that I had an advantage or that I was getting to play because I was Jim Bateman's son.

"Once we left the field and went home, he was Dad," Matt added. "If I asked him something [about football] that I had a question about, he would answer it. But, generally, we didn't take football home with us."

A perfect regular season

The Broncos opened the 1987 season with a nondescript 14-8 nondistrict win over Dallas Lake Highlands High School. Senior fullback Danny Manuel gained 135 yards on 25 rushes, but it was the Denton High defense — which would evolve as the cornerstone unit on the team — that really stood out. The Broncos recovered four Wildcats fumbles, allowed just three first downs as Lake Highlands managed a feeble 47 yards of total offense.

Denton racked up easy victories over two Fort Worth opponents, Southwest and Western Hills High School, the next two weeks before entering district play against Interstate 35E rival Lewisville High School. Manuel rushed for 114 yards and scored all three touchdowns in a 21-0 win over the Farmers that certainly justified the Broncos' No. 5 area ranking by The Dallas Morning News that week.

In the following two weeks, the Broncos rolled on by battling past Wichita Falls Rider High School, 29-20, and overpowering Keller High School, 37-7.

In Week 7, the Broncos traveled to Wichita Falls for a game that would come to serve as the turning point of the season. After a tight game the entire night, the Coyotes scored a touchdown with 1:28 remaining to pull within a point of the Broncos. Not in contention for a playoff spot, Wichita Falls chose to try for an upset win with a two-point conversion attempt. A pass fell incomplete, but Denton was called for an offsides penalty on the play, giving the Coyotes a second try from the 1-yard line.

This time, the Coyotes tried a run around the edge. But senior defensive end Gary Bilyeu blasted through to grab the runner behind the line of scrimmage, where he was ultimately gang-tackled by the Broncos at the 5-yard line to preserve the narrow 20-19 win.

"I was spent after that game," Logan said. "I don't remember how I performed, but I remember it being a really hard game.

"But I remember thinking that maybe we could go all the way with this," he added. "I remember thinking that we were better than I thought we were. I think on the bus — it's a long ride home — we kind of talked about, 'We can do this.' It was a hard-fought game and we had to win that game."

"It was on the road and our backs were against the wall," said Matt Bateman. "And you can either lay down or stand up and win it. That's when guys started believing."

Denton rebounded the following week in its homecoming game with a resounding 36-0 win over Weatherford High School and followed that game up with an 11-point win over Flower Mound Marcus High School, in what was coach Bateman's 70th career victory at the helm of the Broncos. The next week, Denton High closed out a perfect 10-0 regular season with a convincing 48-14 thumping of Sherman High School that earned the Broncos a District 5-5A championship.

It was an early play made by Logan in the Weatherford game that reflected that passion and fire — some might say nastiness — that the then-6-foot-1, 220-pounder displayed on nearly every play in every game. On Weatherford's first offensive play, Logan exploded into the backfield, grabbed the Weatherford running back on a jarring tackle for a loss, which he finished off with a message-sending blast to the head.

The play drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which former teammates today can laugh about simply because it seemed like Logan was good for one about every game.

"He was one of the most intense players I've ever seen," said Matt Bateman. "He was just plain mean on the football field."

"Sometimes we would get upset with him," noted Borges. "He would definitely set the tone."

Added Crouch, who observed Logan all season from the press box: "Trey would send messages. He was that kind of player. And it was fun to watch him play."

Logan, when details of the game-opening play are brought up, simply smiles and shakes his head. "I have no memory of that," he said. "None at all.

"Coach [Kerry] West was my position coach and he expected me to kind of set the tone," Logan added. "I tried to do that. And he expected that on every play. Every play I tried to go as hard as a I could. I tried to be in on every tackle."

Playoff ready

By the time the playoffs started that season, the Broncos were a well-oiled machine that could ram the ball down your throat on offense coupled with a defense that could snuff out just about any opposing offensive scheme. That personality certainly was on display in the 41-10 bi-district win over Southwest.

Southwest head coach Rudy Mauser summed up the Broncos afterward with a simple evaluation of the game: "Just too much football team for us."

The next week, a trio of area-round playoff games were scheduled for Texas Stadium, including the Denton-Haltom matchup. Coach Bateman took the team down to Irving during the week for a practice session at the facility so the Broncos could get adjusted to playing in the NFL facility.

"It was every kid's dream, I think, to play at Texas Stadium," said Borges. "For us, that was the first time for us to play at Texas Stadium, so it was a big deal. It was a special time."

The surroundings certainly didn't overwhelm the Broncos, as senior split end Raymond Redmon hauled in a 51-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Bo Cooper in the second quarter and caught a 49-yard pass for Denton's only other TD in what was a 14-3 win.

The victory set up a regional-round game the next week with Permian. Two years earlier the teams had met in the playoffs in Odessa, so this time it was Denton's turn to host the rematch. The pregame hype for the contest was almost immediate.

David Pyke, then the Denton Record-Chronicle's beat writer who covered the Broncos, remembers driving back into Denton following the Broncos' win at Texas Stadium the week before and being welcomed by "Mojo is coming" signs already displayed on some telephone poles around town.

"And that day, Odessa Permian had played, I think, in El Paso," Pyke said. "So they're hundreds of miles away from here. It must have been Permian grads, fans, whatever. They knew the game would be here in town. I get back into town and here are these signs. It was phenomenal, brilliant."

Tough ending

Of course, the Denton High School hallways were buzzing with excitement about the game as was the entire town. It was a rematch with one of the state's most touted and historically successful programs — which would be the subject of the Friday Night Lights book the next season — and it was being played in Denton. It was big enough to lure Dallas' WFAA-TV to come do a midweek feature on the Broncos.

"It seemed like the whole town was talking about that game," Borges said. "I think we tried, the best we could, to focus in on the game and not get sucked into all the hype."

With electricity in the air and the aging, packed bleachers at Fouts Field rocking, the game took an instant turn on Permian's very first offensive series. From their own 20, the Panthers called an out-and-up pass play. Receiver Lloyd Hill faked a short out route before breaking long down the sideline. Denton defensive back Todd Jensen slipped covering the fake, stumbled and was unable to catch up with Hill, who pulled in the 80-yard TD reception to give Permian a quick 7-0 lead just seconds into the game.

"At the time, we were a little bit shocked," Matt Bateman said. "But we still thought we could win that game."

"Obviously, Permian was really good to begin with, but you can't spot them seven points," Pyke said. "It drained a lot of the energy out of it. They [the Broncos] played with them the whole game, but they could not get that one play to get back into it. It was great strategy on [Permian's] part."

Bateman grabbed an interception on the Panthers' second possession, which led to Denton's field goal and only points in the game. Permian scored its other TD later in the first half and the Broncos defense shut out the Panthers in the second half — limiting Permian to just three first downs in the last two quarters.

Unfortunately, the DHS offense never could muster any sustained scoring drives against Permian's defense. The Broncos got two opportunities late in the game to put points on the board, but a fourth-and-inches at the Panthers' 10-yard line was stopped late in the third quarter, and Cooper, passing from Permian's 19-yard line, was intercepted in the end zone with 5:56 left in the game.

After the game, Jim Bateman admitted frustration with the missed opportunities to score while also expressing his pride in the way the Broncos continued to battle throughout the entire game.

"We had opportunities to win and didn't win the game," he told Pyke. "That's the disappointing thing. I'm proud of the way we played."

Of course, when you are 17 and 18 years old, playoff losses can be an overwhelming shock to the system.

"It was devastating," Logan said. "I'd never cried like that. I really wanted to win, because we were at home. It was really gut-wrenching. I can't explain it. It was the worst loss of my career."

"The first thing I did was apologize to my dad," said Matt Bateman. "I wanted to win it for him."

Added Borges: "I probably shed more tears the day after. It definitely was a bitter pill to swallow. When you knew that you had such a good team and that was your first loss. It's hard."

It's a memory that even 30 years has trouble erasing.

FEATURED PHOTO: A team photo of the 1987 varsity football team in the 1988 Denton High School yearbook. Jeff Woo/DRC