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Growing apart: Battle of Big Sandy gridiron duel ends

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, February 3, 2018
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Battle of Big Sandy

Messenger photo by Joe Duty; design by Joy Carrico

The Battle of Big Sandy on the gridiron is over – for now.

After nearly 100 meetings, Decatur and Bridgeport are calling it quits. When the University Interscholastic League unveiled its latest round of realignment Thursday morning, the Eagles and Bulls did not have each other on their non-district schedules for football.

The two schools landed in different 4A divisions. Decatur is in District 4-4A Division I and Bridgeport in 3-4A Division II for football. The two schools will be in the same league for basketball – 8-4A. They will also likely remain district rivals when the UIL unveils districts for other sports.

The Eagles lead the all-time football series 64-28-6 and have won the last five meetings by a combined score of 291-96.

Bridgeport coach Shannon Wilson said it was in the best interest of the Bulls to discontinue the annual contest.

“If I really thought it was a [big] deal for our community and our kids, and it was meaningful – and they really, really wanted [to play], then I wouldn’t be [cancelling it],” Wilson said.

Decatur coach Mike Fuller said he first learned Bridgeport was not interested in renewing the rivalry around Christmas, adding that he had seen it coming for a few months.

“It’s something that’s been around for a long time,” Fuller said. “[The players] have been fine. They’re a little bit disappointed, but they know how it goes. It may come back one day, hopefully. We wanted to continue to play, and they didn’t want to.”

The two schools last took a break in the series in 1990 and 91. Since first playing in 1921, the two schools have met in all but 12 years.

Bridgeport last beat Decatur in 2012. The Bulls had a three-game winning streak in the series from 2008-10.

When the schools turned in enrollment figures in October for realignment, Decatur checked in with an enrollment of 1,054 – 96 students below the 5A threshold. Meanwhile, Bridgeport had an enrollment of 651 – 146 students above the 3A cutoff.

Wilson said the enrollment disparity between the two schools was a factor in the discontinuation of the series.

“I’ve been told by some since I got here [the rivalry] is something we need to evaluate,” Wilson said. “I promise you from the day I got here no one has said ‘Man, you’ve gotta play Decatur. It’s the most important thing.’ It’s been opposite, honestly. It’s been lopsided. In the last five years the growth the disparity is a lot different.

“I’m trying to put our kids in the best position to be successful, and right now, whether it be mental or whatever, that’s not a game that’s been favorable for us. At any level.”

Wilson just finished his first season with Bridgeport, compiling a 3-8 record that ended with a loss to Godley in the bi-district round. Most recently the head coach at Bullard outside of Tyler, Wilson went 38-36 in seven seasons with the Panthers, advancing to the third round of the playoffs in 2011.

Wilson took over for long-time coach Danny Henson, who retired after the 2016 season. Henson spent 24 years in the district and helped lead Bridgeport to 151 victories during his tenure. Henson went 11-13 in the rivalry.

“[Decatur versus Bridgeport] was always something everybody had a chance to look forward to in both communities,” Henson said. “It was always a big deal. Especially back in the days when the schools were a little closer in population and stuff, and the games from year to year kind of went back and forth. It was certainly a highlight and probably just as exciting or more exciting than playoff games were.

“We always looked forward to playing it. It was always a big challenge.”

For Decatur, the Eagles are undefeated in the series under Fuller, who took over for former head coach Kyle Story four years ago.

With Story at the helm, Decatur claimed seven district titles and compiled a record of 109-59 over the course of 15 years. Story left Decatur in 2014 to be the first head coach of Frisco Independence High School.

Story took over the Decatur program in 1999 and went 9-6 in the Battle of Big Sandy.

“The Battle of Big Sandy has been going on for a long time and has a lot of tradition tied to it,” Story said. “It’s always been a huge game there in Wise County. Not playing it is going to be different, but nothing ever stays the same. There comes a time when it may not be the best opportunity for one school to continue scheduling another one. They’re kind of going in different directions in terms of size of the school districts.

“I understand why they did it, but it’s a shame the Battle of Big Sandy can’t continue to go on like it has in the past.”

Both Fuller and Wilson said Thursday the two schools currently have no plans to renew the rivalry. Since Decatur and Bridgeport are in different districts, they are not required to play one another.

Fuller said Decatur would start playing Bridgeport again any time they want to, while Wilson insisted playing them was not a priority.

“If everyone wanted to play the game and came up and told me, ‘We want to play’ then it would be in the best interest maybe to [play Decatur],” Wilson said.

Last Meeting

LAST MEETING – Decatur’s Dayne Chapman and Bridgeport’s Carson Johnson dive for a ball during the 98th meeting between the Eagles and Bulls. The two are not scheduled to play next season. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

BEST OF BIG SANDY

With the Battle of Big Sandy taking a hiatus after 98 meetings, here is a sampling of the some of the memorable games in the historic rivalry between Bridgeport and Decatur taken from past issues of the Messenger.

1922

Bridgeport 13, Decatur 7

The Decatur high school football team went to Bridgeport and was defeated by Bridgeport by the score of 13 to 7. The first half went scoreless, but at the beginning of the second half Shoemaker received the ball from the kickoff on the 15-yard line and ran 85 yards through a broken field for Decatur’s only touchdown. A goal was kicked, making the score 7. Bridgeport made two touchdowns, Dieb making one on a short end run.

Bridgeport’s second touchdown resulted from a pass. The game was played under protest of Decatur’s Coach Sparks, who charged that Bridgeport played at least one ineligible man, Thompson, who was alleged to be over the age limit of 21 years for high school players.

The Bridgeport victory snapped a three-game win streak for Decatur in the series.

1962
BRIDGEPORT 14, DECATUR 13

The hapless Decatur High School Eagles dropped their final game to the Bridgeport Bullies 14-13 to close out a winless season. The game was played in perfect football weather on the fine field at Bridgeport. The win brought to a close a 28-year long drought for the Bullies. It has been reported that Bridgeport had not won over Decatur in 28 years. Be that true or not, a stout defense and an enthusiastic offense spoiled the Eagles’ final hope for a win in the 1962 season.

An Eagle fumble on their own 34-yard line and a recovery by Bridgeport set up the Bullies’ winning drive. P. Denton capped the drive with a 2-yard plunge into the end zone. The Bullies went for two points and made it with a pass into the end zone to put them ahead by the close margin of 14-13.

1963
DECATUR 13, BRIDGEPORT 12

Revenge was sweet for the Decatur Eagles last Friday night, but it did not come easy. The Bullies of Bridgeport fell, but not easily, to the Eagles by a score of 13-12. The Bullies showed a great amount of determination and fielded an outstanding defensive and offensive ball club.

Jim Cartwrlght broke into the open and hauled in a Scott Boyd pass for 44 yards and touchdown. Boyd then added the extra point, which clinched the lead for the Eagles at 13-12. Bridgeport threatened very late in the last period, but defensive halfback Jim Cartwright picked off a Bruce Rutherford pass on the Decatur 14-yard that ended the threat.

1972
BRIDGEPORT 14, DECATUR 14

After trailing 14-0 late in the third quarter, Decatur fought back to tie the game.

The Eagles stopped the Bulls and took the ball at their 41 with 2:30 remaining in the game, trailing by eight. After a Bridgeport penalty, Decatur used five plays to punch the ball in with 58 ticks remaining. Elvin Jackson took the ball in from three yards out to get the Eagles within two. With no choice, Decatur went for two and ran the option. Sam Renshaw pitched the ball to James Rowe, who crossed the goal line around the left side, tying the game at 14.

Less than a minute later, the final buzzer sounded with each team having contrasting reactions. It was the last tie in the series.

“We were happy to tie after being down by 14,” said Decatur’s Gary Cocanaugher in 2011. “It was looking pretty bad. For us, we weren’t satisfied with a tie, but it was better than a loss.”

Fred Renfro added: “I think it was Darrell Royal that said tying a game is like kissing your sister.”

Bridgeport’s Billy Breeze said it wasn’t that pleasant.

“I’d kiss my sister a lot before I’d go through that again,” he said.

1978
BRIDGEPORT 41, DECATUR 40

Defenses broke down and the Bulls and Eagles rampaged for three hours Friday night at Decatur’s soggy Eagle Stadium. It was undoubtedly the wildest District 10-2A football clash this season. And when the mud stopped flying, the Bridgeport Bulls had defeated the host Eagles 41-40.

Bridgeport took a 35-33 lead at 11:50 with a 5-yard David Hutto run and a Jerrell Rutherford kick. But at 11:32, Marshall Merritt scored on an 86-yard run for Decatur and Rusty Rhine kicked the PAT to give the Eagles a 40-35 lead. Bridgeport clinched the victory with a 20-yard Hutto TD run.

Kyle Clifton, the Bulls’ 6-foot-3 junior quarterback, made the best overall performance of the evening. He rushed for 18 yards and completed 12 of 20 passes for 184 yards.

1983
DECATUR 8, BRIDGEPORT 7

Decatur beat Bridgeport 8-7 on a last-minute touchdown and 2-point conversion Friday.

Bridgeport had taken the lead in the fourth quarter following Jim Bartee’s second interception of a Curtis Enis pass. He returned the ball 37 yards to the Eagle 46. From there, Bartee directed a 9-play drive, capping the effort with a 1-yard plunge.

The Eagles took over on their own 44-yard line with 4:01 remaining. Brian Eaton ran for 12 yards and Enis hit Jimmy Potter on a 15-yard pass. Charlie Kirkland covered the final 18 yards on two carries. The score came from 11 yards out with 1:04 to play. The Eagles then gambled on the 2-point play to win and got it when Enis ran in on an option rollout to the right.

2000
DECATUR 34, BRIDGEPORT 30

The Battle of Big Sandy took place Friday night between the Decatur Eagles and Bridgeport Bulls, and the two teams couldn’t have played a better game to start off a rivalry for the next thousand years.

In a three-hour contest filled with offense, defense and dozens of momentum swings, the Eagles finally overcame an 18-point third quarter deficit to upend the Bulls 34-30 at Eagle Stadium.

Decatur quarterback Jeremy Slimp rolled to his left, then turned and threw the ball to Jason Foreman, who was all alone in the end zone with 40 seconds left.

2007
DECATUR 44, BRIDGEPORT 40 OT

Bridgeport, which scored in the final minute of regulation to tie the game at 41, pulled within one defensive stand of winning the game in the first overtime. Kicker Antonio Martinez split the uprights on a 23-yard field goal in overtime.

The Eagles had an answer. Backup quarterback Justin Unger ran twice for 18 yards to set up Josh Trant’s game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run.

2009
BRIDGEPORT 24, DECATUR 21

After throwing his third interception with his team trailing by four late in the fourth quarter, Bridgeport quarterback Cody Henson wanted one more chance against the Decatur Eagles’ defense.

With two minutes left in the game, the junior got his opportunity and made the most of it, leading his team on an 88-yard drive. Henson hit Austin Blevins with a 21-yard touchdown pass with 42 seconds left to complete Bridgeport’s 24-21 come-from-behind victory in the 90th Battle of Big Sandy at Eagle Stadium.

BHS 1 water tower

Submitted photo

BIG SANDY SHENANIGANS

By Cindy Barnett Wood, BHS Class of 1975

My freshman year in high school, 1971, Bridgeport beat Decatur. The score was 13-6.

That was also the year that a real deceased bull head was stuck on a stake on the courthouse lawn, and somebody shot a buzzard and hung it over a high-line wire, so that the Decatur football bus and all Decatur attendees had to drive under it to get to the Bridgeport Stadium.

All of this was really exciting to this 14-year-old clarinet player in the “Mighty Marching Maroon” band! We had lots of Maroon pride and Decatur had lots of Blue pride. So the battle was won that year by BHS, but the best part was later that night when a couple of BHS senior boys (we all know who they were, but I’m not telling), climbed the water tower in Decatur and spray painted “BHS #1” across the front of it. There was always a spotlight on the water tower, so it was well illuminated. It was quite the infamous prank, and Decatur had to sand blast it off I believe. It stayed on the tower for several days, long enough to become a legend.

Fast forward over the next few years, as long as I was in high school, when we played Decatur, Bridgeport students would yell, “Long live the water tower 13-6, long live the water tower 13-6.” I don’t know how long the yell lived on, but I remember it to this day.

And fast forward even further, this maroon-blooded mom has a blue-blooded daughter who attended high school in Decatur, and I was thrust into cheering on Decatur, which I also did with the same community pride that the Battle of Big Sandy is all about.

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