[Graphic by Brent Seals]
ARLINGTON— The setting couldn’t have been more perfect.
Inside the cathedral housing those Texas legend Dallas Cowboys the Canadian Wildcats signed their names in permanent ink to Texas Panhandle football history.
Canadian fended off Franklin 35-34 in a frantic finish scoring with 28 seconds remaining Thursday claiming the 2020 Class 3A Division II state championship at AT&T Stadium.
This was Canadian’s fifth state championship, the most UIL state football titles in the history of the Texas Panhandle.
Canadian was tied with Amarillo High for most Texas Panhandle state titles entering Thursday’s afternoon game.
Amarillo High won its four titles in 1934, 1935, 1936 and the final one arriving in 1940.
“It’s not to easy to reach a state championship game,” said 11-year Canadian head football coach Chris Koetting, owner of an unheard of 143-18 record and three of the five Wildcats’ state titles. “It’s even harder to win one.”
Hard was an understatement to win Thursday.
The final 6:34 of the game saw two ties, three lead changes and Canadian pulling out the thriller when senior quarterback Josh Culwell found senior receiver Reagan Cochran open deep in the middle for a touchdown with 34 seconds left tying the game at 34-34.
Edgar Salazar, the all-time extra point leader in Texas High School history with 340, booted the point after through the goalposts for the winning point.
“This game shows the character of our team,” Koetting said. “The toughness of our team to battle back and get the job done.
“(Winning five state titles) I’m happy for kids and our coaches. I can’t say enough about our coaching staff. I might be a little bias but they are the best around. They are so unselfish. They teach our kids a lot more than football.”
But no doubt the football taught is impressive, producing numbers that are hard to fathom. Although Canadian’s run to greatness didn’t start until 2007, it’s been at warpspeed since that time:
Canadian celebrates its fifth UIL state championship in school history. [Trevor Fleeman/ Press Pass Sports]
– Thursday’s win improves Canadian to a staggering 183-22 over those 14 years.
– Canadian owns eight straight district titles and a 44 straight district win streak.
– When is comes to bidistrict playoff games Canadian has won 19 straight.
– Canadian has advanced to seven straight state semifinal games.
– Canadian has appeared in seven state title football games, the most of any school in the Texas Panhandle.
– Canadian is 5-2 in the state championship games, winning state titles in 2007, 2008, 2014, 2015 and 2020.
Culwell and Cochran, the two Canadian seniors coming through in the clutch combing on the game-winning touchdown pass, said growing up in Canadian means one thing – you want to be a Wildcat.
Culwell and Cochran each attended Canadian’s first state championship win in 2007, a 40-25 win over Elysian Fields on a cold evening in Brownwood.
“I remember going to that first state championship game,” Culwell said. “I got to go in the locker room. I was like five or six. That was exciting for me. It was always a goal of mine to play for the Wildcats. I looked up to guys like Ben Arbuckle, Tanner Schafer and Casen Cavalier. It was nice to be where they have been.”
Cochran attended the 2007 state championship game with his parents but doesn’t remember a thing since he was so small.
Cochran, however, will forever remember being a Canadian Wildcat.
“Oh yes, everybody grows up in Canadian wanting to be a Wildcat,” Cochran said. “As a kid you watch the high school team and you want to be them That’s how it is. That’s how it’s always been and that’s how it will continue to be.
“To leave our legacy helping win the most state titles in Texas Panhandle history is surreal.”
And real. Very real as Coach Koetting received the traditional bucket of fluid dumped on him after the game.
How’d that feel?
Koetting breaks into a grin before he answers.
“Unbelievable,” Koetting said. “Unbelievable.”
Five state titles? A Texas Panhandle record. Believe it.
Tradition of excellence
5 UIL state championships (2007, 2008, 2014, 2015, 2020)
Chris Koetting, 143-18 in 11 seasons as head football coach
7 UIL state championship appearances
7 straight UIL state semifinal appearances
8 straight district championships
44 straight district wins
Since 2007: 183-22
Since 2014: 100-8 overall