In the 91 years since the first Texas state football championship was played in 1920 (Houston Heights and Cleburne fought to a scoreless draw), no team has ever won five consecutive state championships. That changed Friday night in Dallas.
What started on Dec. 22, 2007, when quarterback Garrett Gilbert led Lake Travis to its first football state championship with a 36-34 win over Dallas Highland Park in the 4A DII state championship, continued through Dec. 16, 2011, when receiver Griffin Gilbert caught the first touchdown of a 22-7 win over Waco Midway in the 4A DI title game to secure Lake Travis' unprecedented fifth straight state championship, sealing the single greatest team accomplishment in the history of Texas high school football.
As Lake Travis ran out the clock in the final moments Friday night in Cowboys Stadium, the black and red clad Cavaliers hoisted hands in the air with all five fingers extended. Their fans, part of 32,314 in attendance, grew from a celebratory cheer to a jet engine roar, and then the madness ensued with a celebration on the field as the 11 p.m. hour approached.
It had all the appearances of a celebration of a single state title, but there was also full awareness of what the program had just achieved as a whole. The run was Dillon Panthers-esque, bordering on surreal, and it put Lake Travis among the greatest high school dynasties of all time, in Texas and beyond.
"Outstanding job tonight, I am so proud of you," Lake Travis head coach Hank Carter shouted to his team, and then paused before exclaiming. "No one can touch what you just did!"
The Cavaliers erupted. Whether it holds true that Lake Travis is and will be the only team to win five straight state titles in the land of Friday Night Lights remains to be seen, but what it took to get to this point is the only necessary evidence to show how unlikely it is to achieve such a feat.
It's not as if other teams haven't come close to five straight. Last year, Lake Travis' fourth straight title tied the program with Sealy ('94-'97) and Celina ('98-'01). Sealy lost a first-round playoff game on its fifth attempt, and Celina lost in the second round of its attempt. Maybe the team that's come closest was Southlake Carroll, which won four titles in five years from '02-'06, losing in the state championship in the second of the five years.
Furthermore, the run is only unprecedented in Texas, as St. Louis School in Honolulu won 14 straight Hawai'i state championships from 1986-99, while Washington High of Sioux Falls, S.D., won 14 straight from 1951-64. But compared to the football power states in the U.S., the run is up there with the greats. As Danny Davis of the Austin American-Statesman noted, no Florida school has ever won more than four straight state titles. In Arkansas, the record is six, and in Louisiana it's five. Independence High in North Carolina won seven straight from 2000-06.
Lake Travis' Five Straight State Titles
2007: Lake Travis 36, Highland Park 34
2008: Lake Travis 48, Longview 23
2009: Lake Travis 24, Longview 17
2010: Lake Travis 27, Denton Ryan 7
2011: Lake Travis 22, Waco Midway 7
Since 2007, Lake Travis has a 77-3 record, including three 16-0 seasons in '08, '09 and '11. The Cavaliers have been led by three coaches: Jeff Dicus in '07 (now at Duncanville High School just south of Dallas), Chad Morris in '08 and '09 (now the offensive coordinator at Clemson) and Hank Carter in '10 and '11. Three quarterbacks have steered the championship seasons, first by Gilbert twice, then by current Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer twice and now by junior Baker Mayfield. And at one point, the team won 48 straight games, good enough for third all-time in Texas. The program also now holds the record for consecutive playoff victories with 30.
The run is even more impressive considering the program had a sub .500 record in just over 20 years before the title run started. The Cavaliers went from nobodies in the lore of Texas football to royalty among the likes of Katy, Permian and Celina in just five years. Lake Travis has graduated DI prospects along the way, but few are household names beyond Gilbert and his predecessor Todd Reesing.
As the clock ticked down, and the fifth title was all but wrapped up, the elder Gilbert, standing beside Brewer, watched with beaming pride as his brother and his high school continued the record-setting journey that he helped start. But even Gilbert couldn't envision five straight.
"With the coaches and players we had, we built a winning tradition. We passed it on to very capable and talented players, and the coaches kept everyone on the same page," he said. "But honestly, I can't say I ever expected anything like this. I'm so proud of these guys and my little brother."
Brewer added, "It's a special thing we've got here. We're family."
While a Gilbert has been on the field for every Lake Travis title, a Lagasse has been on the field for four of the five runs. Older brother Bryant played in the first title game, and younger brother Colin played in the last three, taking home offensive MVP honors in win over Midway. Afterward, he couldn't believe the run he'd been a part of.
"I've been in the right place at the right time," Lagasse, a SMU commit, said. "The coaching staff is awesome, the players are awesome and I think my future after football is different because of playing here."
But in the moment, could he or any of his teammates comprehend the feat that they had just accomplished?
"I've won two other [titles], and it feels the same, which is awesome," Lagasse said. "But I think it will sink in as the year goes on that we were a part of history, and that every year, we left it all out on the field."
Every year, they've also been extremely fortunate to navigate injuries and turnovers and bad luck.
"Winning five in a row -- winning one is unbelievable," Carter said. "This is incredible. We've had smart players, tough players, everything. Everyone asks what it is about Lake Travis that allows this sort of thing to happen. It's a perfect storm, so many factors play into this. Things go wrong, they just don't stay wrong too long. Our kids expect to succeed and have short memories."
But the coaches and players also had to endure a hefty amount of pressure with each title that pushed the program closer to immortality. A goal they never set out to accomplish with the first few titles became a de facto obligation of the program with each winning year. It's a burden of circumstance that has morphed into one of pride.
"It's the best feeling in the world," Carter said. "It's also a relief."
But what about six in a row? Will the team be able to do it without the names on the back of the jerseys that have led this march? Names like Gilbert, Lagasse, Wrinkle, Crow and Womack won't be on the field for the Cavaliers for the first time in a long time in 2012.
No matter, said Griffin Gilbert.
"I have no doubt in the younger players," he said. "They're led by Baker Mayfield, who's done such a great job. Guys like Zach Austin and Shaun Nixon, too. I couldn't ask for anything more from the younger guys as a senior, and I think that's a sign that the leadership will carry on."
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