The 2012 high school football season will come to a close with this week's state championship games at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
The players began two-a-day practices in August and the fortunate ones, were still playing in December.
As former Victoria High and Cuero coach Mark Reeve used to say, "We labor on Labor Day so we can give thanks on Thanksgiving."
Here are a touchdown and an extra point worth of highlights from the season.
El Campo advances to the state final
From the moment the University Interscholastic League released its realignment and reclassification in February, expectations were high for the Ricebirds. El Campo not only dropped from Class 4A to 3A, but also moved from Region III to Region IV.
The Ricebirds were up for the challenge. Coach Bob Gillis' team went 10-0 and won four Division I playoff games, including an upset of Carthage in the semifinals, to advance to the championship game for the first time since 1967. Legions of El Campo fans made the trip to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Unfortunately, the Ricebirds weren't able to bring home their first state title, losing to Stephenville in the championship game. The game drew over 17,000 fans, which was more than attended the Boston Celtics at Houston Rockets game the same night.
Refugio chances of repeating stopped cold
Refugio won the 2011 Class 2A, Division II state championship and was ranked No. 1 in the state going into the season. The Bobcats made no secret of their desire to repeat and rolled through the regular season undefeated.
Coach Jason Herring knew the road back to the state title game would not be an easy one. Refugio blew out Rogers in the area round and pulled away from Lexington in the second half of their regional playoff game.
But Refugio's 27-game winning streak came to an end in the quarterfinals against an undefeated East Bernard team. The Bobcats led at halftime, but the Brahmas stormed back in the second half. Ty Slanina, a TCU commit, scored four touchdowns and East Bernard put up 41 unanswered points. East Bernard went on to rout Elysian Fields 52-8 in the semifinals and will play Corsicana Mildred for the state title on Thursday at 8 p.m.
Refugio quarterback Travis Quintanilla, who set a state record by throwing 10 touchdown passes in a game, will be one of a number of returnees next season.
The Bobcats will enter the 2013 season having won 61 straight regular-season games, 37 consecutive district games, and 38 straight games at Jack Sportsman Bobcat Stadium.
Shiner brews up a long playoff run
The 2011 season could not have been a more frustrating one for Shiner. The Comanches went 2-4 in non-district play. Shiner opened district against No. 1-ranked Ganado at home.
The Comanches lost an early lead and were driving for what would have been the winning score when time ran out. Shiner seemed to right itself and won three playoff games to move into the Class 1A, Division I quarterfinals against Mason. But the Comanches turned the ball over nine times and were thumped 55-7 by the eventual state champions.
Coach Steven Cerny's team returned determined and went through the regular season with a 9-1 record. One of those wins was a 28-19 decision over Ganado in Ganado. The Comanches claimed playoff wins over Ozona and Weimar before gaining a measure of revenge with a 21-3 victory over Mason in the quarterfinals.
Shiner's hopes of playing for its third state championship ended in a semifinal loss to Mart. But the Comanches' playoff run was even more amazing considering quarterback Trevion Flowers tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left leg against Ozona, but continued to direct Shiner's offense.
Run of the Brahma Bulls
Hallettsville finished the 2011 season by winning its final three regular-season games and advancing to the Class 2A, Division I regional playoffs before losing to eventual state-finalist Hempstead.
The Brahmas carried their success into the 2012 season by going 10-0, winning their first district championship since 1991 and their first outright district title since 1979, which was the last time they finished the regular season unbeaten. Coach Tommy Psencik's team overcame adversity along the way, losing its starting quarterback to a knee injury.
The Brahmas advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2004. Hallettsville lost to Cameron Yoe, which will play for a state title on Friday at noon. The Brahmas appear to have put themselves in a position to contend again next season.
Long time coming for area small schools
Fans of Woodsboro and Runge may remember when Don Long was coaching the Eagles to the playoffs, and Carl Peters and Ricky Lock were doing the same for the Yellowjackets. But the Class 1A, Division II teams had largely fallen on hard times. Woodsboro made an occasional playoff appearance, but hadn't won a postseason game since 1988.
Runge hadn't been to the playoffs since 1997 and times had gotten so tough the team withdrew from UIL competition for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. But first-year coach Wade Miller at Woodsboro and second-year coach Ken Wallace at Runge brought success back to their respective schools.
Runge went 8-2 in the regular season and earned its first playoff win since 1996 when it beat Granger before losing to D'Hanis in overtime in the area round. Woodsboro had an 8-2 record in the regular season and ended its playoff drought with a win over Bartlett.
The Eagles went on to beat Bruni in area to move into the third round for the first time since 1980, when East Bernard coach Jerry Long was a member of the team. Woodsboro lost to district foe Falls City in the regional round.
Sandcrabs stay on top of District 30-4A
Calhoun returned only one offensive starter and had to replace its entire starting backfield from last season. But the Sandcrabs shook off their inexperience and finished the regular season with a 9-0 record, while repeating as District 30-4A champions. Coach Richard Whitaker's team was almost as prolific out of its option offense and played well on defense, limiting five opponents to 15 points or less, while shutting out Calallen on its home field. Calhoun won its Division II bi-district game against former district foe Floresville before losing to Edcouch-Elsa in the area playoffs.
Two out of three isn't bad for St. Paul Cardinals
Shiner St. Paul started the season 2-2 with losses to Fort Bend Christian and Weimar. The Cardinals reeled off four straight wins before losing to long-time county rival Hallettsville Sacred Heart and finishing second in district.
But coach Jake Wachsmuth, who had coached the 2010 team to the TAPPS state title before leaving for a season, guided his team to playoff wins over Temple Central Christian and Bay Area Christian.
The Cardinals then won a rematch against Sacred Heart in the semifinals to advance to the championship game for the third straight year.
Adam Hollenbach scored eight touchdowns to lead St. Paul to a 56-43 win over Frisco Legacy Christian in the Division III title game. The Cardinals have now won five TAPPS state championships.
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.