WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — The storied rivalry between the Wichita Falls Coyotes and the Rider Raiders has historically been marked by lopsided games, with the winning team sporting an average margin of victory of nearly three touchdowns.
Ahead of the final rivalry game on Friday, August 25, 2023, Digital Reporter Josh Hoggard takes a look back at one of the few Rider-Old High games that went down to the wire with arguably the most thrilling ending in the history of the rivalry.
The history of the lopsided rivalry
The Raiders and the Coyotes have met on the football field 61 times in the rivalry’s 59 years, meeting a second time in 1966 for the district championship and a second time in 2019 for the first-ever Rider-Old High postseason matchup. Rider has won 40 of those games, while Old High has won 18. Three have ended in a tie.
Of the 61 football games played between Rider and Old High, 53 ended with more than a touchdown separating the winning and losing teams. In fact, excluding the three games that ended in a tie, only three were decided by a field goal or less.
Only twice in 61 games has the outcome of the Rider-Old High game been decided by a field goal as time ran off the game clock, one of which occurred in 1987, when the Raiders made a field goal on the final play of the game, tying the game at 31 points each. That’s how the game would end, as overtime had not been introduced for high school football at the time.
There has only been one time in the 59-year history of the Rider-Old High rivalry in which the winner was decided by a game-winning score on the final play of the game, during the 2015 season.
Rider Raiders sought revenge for 2014 upset
In a 10-game high school football season, every game is important.
For Wichita Falls’s crosstown rivals Rider and Old High, there’s one game on the schedule every year that matters more than all the rest.
For the players on the field, like Rider High School graduate and former kicker Brock Dowling, it’s all about the Rider-Old High game.
“It’s huge. It’s treated like a state championship game,” Dowling said. “There’s tons of weight. I think even the coaches at the time said, you know, it’s just another game, but everyone knows that’s not true.”
Heading into the Rider-Old High game in 2015, Dowling’s senior year, the Raiders were looking for revenge. In 2014, the Coyotes shocked the city by upsetting the favored Raiders, ending a four-year winning streak for Rider.
In 2015, the Raiders and the Coyotes played in the same UIL district, adding even more weight to the rivalry. Following a win in their district opener the week before, Dowling said the Raiders felt their matchup on October 2 with the winless Coyotes was one they should easily win.
“I would definitely say we were confident we were going to win,” Dowling said. “Maybe even a little too confident.”
Coyotes prevent Raiders from scoring in first half
In 2015, Wichita Falls Coyotes jumped out to a one-score lead early thanks to a Darion Minor over-the-shoulder touchdown catch thrown by Jonathan Campbell. It would prove to be the only points scored by either team in the first half of the game.
More than halfway through the third quarter of the rivalry game, the Coyotes found themselves with a 14-0 lead thanks to a 61-yard run by Darius Vialpando on a fake punt, while still managing to keep Rider out of the endzone.
Later in the third quarter, it looked like the Coyotes extended their lead on a 68-yard touchdown run by Deshawn Holmes, but the play was called back due to an illegal formation by the Coyotes.
With 2:30 left in the third quarter, the Raiders finally got on the scoreboard after a 2-yard touchdown run by Michael Tolliver. Dowling’s attempt at the point after was no good, however, giving the Raiders an eight-point deficit late in the game.
But, there’s a reason Dowling missed the extra point.
“Earlier in the game, I made a tackle on the kickoff and I had hurt my leg,” Dowling said. “It was my planting foot.”
Dowling was taken out of the game and replaced with fellow senior kicker Landry Franklin. He suddenly found himself sitting on the sidelines for the biggest game in his final season at Rider High School, and all he could do is watch as his team struggled to find any rhythm against the rival Coyotes.
“They actually had the lead the entire time up until the end of the game,” Dowling said. “We started getting really nervous toward the end to see like, man, here we are about to lose this game.”
Back and forth in the fourth quarter
The Coyotes were leading 14-6 at the end of the third quarter and revenge for the Raiders was beginning to look like much less of a possibility.
However, the Raiders’ late score in the third quarter would mark the beginning of a 21-point run. Before the start of the fourth quarter, a promising drive for the Raiders led by quarterback Willie Cherry and stand-out receiver TJ Vasher put the Raiders near the red zone.
Early in the fourth, Cherry dove into the endzone from a yard out to bring the game within two points. However, the Raiders elected to go for the 2-point conversion, handing the ball to running back Willie Phillips, who found the endzone and tied the game.
Later in the fourth quarter, Cherry found the endzone once again after a 31-yard touchdown run, giving the Raiders their first lead of the game with time winding down.
The Coyotes weren’t going away, though. They scored a late touchdown of their own thanks to their running back, Stephen Gains, pulling the game within a single point.
The Coyotes then decided to take a risk with only two minutes remaining in the game and go for a 2-point conversion rather than the standard extra point to take the lead back. The Coyotes handed the ball again to Gaines, who found the endzone and appeared to give his team the lead once again.
However, Rider coach Marc Bindel called a timeout before the snap, negating the conversion attempt. So the Coyotes instead settled for the PAT, tying the game at 21 points per side and giving the Raiders the ball with 2 minutes left, enough time for a potential game-winning drive.
The final three seconds of the game
Thanks to more excellent catches from Vasher, who ended the game with a whopping 9 catches for 219 yards, more than half of the Raiders’ total offense, Rider found themselves within field goal range with only three seconds remaining on the clock.
Dowling, however, found himself still on the bench thanks to the injury he sustained during an earlier kickoff.
Franklin was set to attempt the game-winning field goal, but Dowling said he couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore. After all, it was the biggest play of the biggest game of his final high school football season.
“I was like, No, I feel like I have to do this,” Dowling said. “I’m sorry. Like, I know I’m kind of hurt, but I’m confident that I can make this kick. And he was like, Go for it.”
Just like that, every eye in Memorial Stadium was on Dowling, who wore number 35, as he walked onto the field to attempt a 32-yard field goal as time was set to expire, either giving the Raiders the walk-off win or sending the game to overtime.
“You’ve got thousands of people on your left, thousands of people on your right, and 50% of them hoping that you make it, the other 50% hoping that you don’t,” Dowling said. “I’ve faced a lot of high-pressure situations since then, but I don’t think I’ve ever had anything that’s like that level of intensity in that moment.”
“…And the rest is history.”
Thousands of fans held their breath as the ball was snapped to Phillips, who also served as Rider’s holder for field goals.
“I thought it was a bad hold,” Dowling said. “It was kind of a bobbly, diagonally placed ball where you want it to be vertical. So I just closed my eyes right when I saw the snap kind of get fixed and just swung and let muscle memory take over and the rest is history.”
History is exactly what it was. The ball sailed through the uprights as time expired, giving the Raiders a 24-21 victory, the only time in the history of the Rider-Old High rivalry where the game was decided by a game-winning field goal as time expired.
“It was a crazy feeling for sure, especially having everyone jump up on top of me after the kick,” Dowling said. “I was actually out the next game for an injury because everyone jumped on me.”
As for the alleged bad hold by Phillips, it was revealed after the game that the hold was anything but bad.
“It wasn’t until we went and reviewed the film later on that we saw at the very last second, right before my foot made contact with it, he corrected and made it skip perfectly vertical so it could just have the perfect trajectory,” Dowling said.
That night, Dowling experienced a moment athletes dream about their entire lives and one of the most exciting moments in all of sports; Hitting a game-winner as time expires.
“You kind of feel like a celebrity for like, just a moment,” Dowling said. “Ending my high school career with the field goal to just kind of put the nail in the coffin… It’s a very surreal feeling.”
TRIVIA: The other two close rivalry games
Excluding ties, the only other Rider-Old High rivalry games decided by three points or less happened in 1977 and in 1998, neither of which was decided by a game-winning score as time expired.
In 1977, the Raiders won by a final score of 14-13, the smallest margin of victory in the history of Rider-Old High, after a game that may have even been closer than the final score. Late in the game, the score was tied 7-7, with the Coyotes driving.
The Rider defense, who previously held the Coyotes out of the endzone on a fourth-and-goal play at the 1-yard line, intercepted a pass and returned it for a 33-yard touchdown, giving them the late lead.
With 11 seconds left, the Coyotes found the endzone, bringing the game within a point. However, instead of kicking the extra point and likely ending the game at 14 points apiece, Old High elected to go for the 2-point conversion and win.
The play was broken up by Rider’s defense, giving them the ball back as time expired and securing the victory for the Raiders.
In 1998, the Raiders were holding on to a 21-10 lead late in the game. However, the Coyotes scored on a 62-yard touchdown pass. After a successful 2-point conversion attempt, Old High made it a three-point game.
However, the Coyotes’ attempt at an onside kick to set up a potential game-tying or game-winning drive failed. The Raiders were able to run out the clock and secure the 21-18 victory.