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Burnet’s 1991 football players recall why they played for a state title

CAPTION: Members of the 1991 Burnet football team gather behind a table that displays the numerous trophies it won, including the Class 3A state runner-up, as the players are being recognized before the kickoff of the contest between the Bulldogs and Lampasas Oct. 7. Trisha Abernathy Nickes holds a photo of her dad, head coach Ed Abernathy, being carried off by his players. Photo by Martelle Luedecke/Luedecke Photography

Burnet Bulldog football fans proudly talk about the 2002 and 2003 teams that played for back-to-back Class 3A state championship games when the Bulldogs finished as the runners-up twice.

But those weren’t the first teams to play for a state title. That distinction belongs to the 1991 Bulldogs where about 20 players returned for a reunion Oct. 7, only their second in three decades, at their home stadium. The players and Trisha Abernathy Nickes, the daughter of former head coach Ed Abernathy, were recognized before the kickoff of the Burnet and Lampasas football game.

In acorner on the home side, the players and loved ones gathered where they got caught up on each other’s lives, looked through scrapbooks, reminisced about their glory days, and basked once more in the three traits of their alma mater: spirit, pride and honor.

While only three Burnet teams in the history of the program have played for a state title, these players didn’t dwell on that distinction. Instead, they focused on how they were able to play for a championship during their second official reunion, and it wasn’t because they had great game plans, they said. It was because of their bonds as brothers and teammates and the closeness they felt with their coaches.

“It actually brings us together,” said Phillip Massoletti, who was a junior fullback and outside linebacker. “We were always real close. We always reminisce back to this time. We won the first playoff game in Burnet High School history.”

Mitchell Maxwell, the team’s senior quarterback, said the motivation to succeed in 1991 was the result of losing in the first round of the playoffs a year earlier. He recalled his older brother, who was a member of the 1990 team, telling him the 1991 team could excel.

“You guys have the pieces,” he recalled hearing. “There were 24 of us (lettermen). We had 14 starters coming back from the previous team that went 9-2.”

But going into the 1991 season, Maxwell was asked to take over as quarterback and learn how to lead the wishbone.

“This team was put together after most of us were juniors the year before,” he said. “We worked out in the summer and got the pieces to go far.”

It may not have felt that way, however, during the first scrimmage in August, he said. The Bulldogs struggled offensively. But to Maxwell’s credit, he and the center worked on snaps and he and the running backs worked on pitches to create offensive flow.

“We were getting better, so we put more plays in,” he said. “My confidence went through the roof.”

The season-opening win at Manor simply confirmed to the Bulldogs they were a team of destiny, Maxwell said, as illustrated by their 10-0 regular season record. They beat arch rival Marble Falls by two touchdowns at Mustang Stadium and then beat them again in the Class 3A regional quarterfinals in what most call the county’s Game of the Century.

In what can no longer happen today because the University Interscholastic League adopted overtime rules, the Bulldogs won three playoff games by statistics, including the rematch against the Mustangs. After the score was tied at 14-14, Burnet advanced because it reached the Marble Falls 20-yard line three times. The Mustangs reached the Bulldogs’ 20 twice.

Burnet’s other playoff wins were over Comanche 31-0 in a bi-district championship, 39-8 over Big Lake Reagan County, Marble Falls and 3-1 on penetrations against Southlake Carroll when the game ended in a 7-7 tie in the state semifinals. The season ended for the Bulldogs in a 7-0 loss to Groesbeck in the state championship.

They returned in 2001 to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their historical feat.

The players agreed the team had the traits necessary to succeed. They had close bonds, great attitudes, took to their coaching, and believed in their scheme. It also helped they had some tremendous natural ability.

“We had it all,” said Massoletti, who still lives in Burnet. “We were all fast, and we were all smart. We had the drive. We all had (the desire) to win that first playoff game. Once we did, we knew we were going all the way.”

Though the players may not gather too often, they’re still there for each other, both men said.

“Social media keeps everybody in touch,” Massoletti said. “If somebody needs something, we’ll pick up the phone and see what’s going on.”

“A few of them I’m seeing and talking to for the first time in 31 years,” Maxwell said. “My parents live in Bertram. This just means so much. I think it was a great opportunity to be recognized and to see each other. We were 25 guys who were all in elementary school together. When we got together at Burnet High School, we didn’t have kids move in. We all grew up in Burnet, we all started in Kindergarten. We didn’t want to let anyone down.”

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