From player to coach to now administrator, Mitch Moore has experienced “the Battle of 377” in a multitude of facets.
The Brownwood High School principal was the back-up quarterback on the 1984 squad and the starting quarterback in 1985 — Gordon Wood’s final season. Moore returned to the Brownwood sideline as an assistant in 1995 and remained through 2009, when he became an assistant principal. Moore has been the BHS principal since 2014, and has witnessed the rivalry evolve since his playing days.
“During my high school years, our main rival then was really still Cleburne,” Moore recalled. “It was the tail end of our rivalry with Cleburne and we didn’t really consider Stephenville a rivalry then. It was a game we were expected to win every year. Stephenville hadn’t turned the corner yet.”
Moore was part of the Lions team that defeated the Yellow Jackets, 30-6, in 1984, and helped lead Brownwood to a 14-12 victory in 1985.
“My junior year, I was up on varsity about midway through the year and I got to play in that game and it was raining mud,” Moore said. “The story I remember was that on the radio, the comment Dallas Huston made when I went in was that he knew I was in the game in the because it was the only uniform that was white. His comment wasn’t about my play, it was about my clean uniform. And I stood out when I went in because my uniform was as clean as could be.”
From 1964-89, Brownwood posted a 22-0-1 record against Stephenville, but the tide began to turn when the Yellow Jackets brought in Art Briles as head coach in 1988.
When Moore began coaching at Brownwood in 1995, Stephenville had won four of the last five contests as the rivalry was nearing its fever pitch.
“It got bigger with Briles and (former Brownwood head coach Steve) Freeman and (former Brownwood head coach W.T.) Stapler because they were all connected,” Moore said. “Those guys had been together in different places like Sweetwater and Hamlin, so that made it intensify. Then Stephenville turned it around and got really good there for a while.”
Perhaps the most memorable game in “Battle of 377” history — at least from the Brownwood point of view — took place in 1999 as the Lions edged the Yellow Jackets, 42-39, in double overtime.
“We had a temporary fence that went up from the halfway point of the locker room all the way down to the goalpost, and you didn’t cross sides,” Moore recalled of the 1999 contest at Gordon Wood Stadium. “There were people lined up all the way down, and Stephenville had those cans going, man what an atmosphere. The games we had over the late ‘90s and early 2000s, those were some intense games, which goes back to Freeman and Briles knowing each other and being good friends.”
In 2003, the Lions — who were coming off a run to the state semifinals in 2002 — snapped a four-game skid against the Yellow Jackets with a 28-21 district victory. But Stephenville still foiled Brownwood down the stretch, indirectly.
“We were in a district with North Crowley, Stephenville, Aledo, some of those guys, it was back when they took three teams and the biggest team went big school and the two smaller teams went small school,” Moore said. “We beat Stephenville, we smoked North Crowley, and then we needed Stephenville to win their last game to get in and if they did, they’d go small school and we’d go big school. Stephenville goes on and loses so we wind up going small school and run into Denton Ryan in the first round and they were a juggernaut at that time. North Crowley goes big school and runs the table, wins five games and the state title. My thought then was even though we beat Stephenville they still messed it up for us. If we would have gone big school I think we could have run the table five games in a row. We were pretty good, but we couldn’t match Denton Ryan that year in Texas Stadium, and they went on to win the state championship.”
The 2016 rendition of the “Battle of 377” was a deja vu moment for Moore, as he watched his son, McLane, quarterback the Lions to a 27-13 victory at Stephenville — giving Brownwood consecutive victories in the series for the first time since 1986-87.
“We were both 1-0 against Stephenville as a starting quarterback. As a family we can go down as being undefeated against Stephenville,” Moore said with a laugh. “That will go down in history and you can never change that. The Moore QBs are 2-0 against Stephenville and we’ll take that.”
In his role as principal, Moore gets to see a different side of the Stephenville ISD.
“We communicate on district meetings and things like that,” Moore said. “The superintendent is a good guy, I’ve met the principal, and they’re good people. Two years ago we were in the same district in every sport and right now it’s just football. But it’s fun because a lot of the kids know each other and have relationships.
“I consider Stephenville our biggest rival even though some people say it’s Wylie now, but Wylie’s still pretty new for me. I go back because of my playing days, I have a little more dislike for them than Wylie,” Moore said with a chuckle.
As for the what the rivalry has become over the last 30 years, Moore said, “It’s excitement. Both towns get involved, the kids get involved. Texas Monthly called it one of the Top 10 rivalries in the state a few years ago. You have to have games like these. It’s fun to play communities that are like you and that you have a closeness with.”