The last time legendary Texas coach Todd Dodge shared the spotlight on a high school football field with son Riley was when the pair won the 2006 5A Division 1 title at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
It was Todd's last game as coach for Southlake Carroll (Southlake, Texas)
and Riley, a four-star junior quarterback, led the Dragons to a third straight state championship by throwing for 303 yards and three touchdowns in a 43-29 comeback win over Westlake (Austin)
Todd, with a sparkling 98-11 record in seven seasons at Carroll and 79-1 over the final five with four state titles, was moving on to coach at the University of North Texas. Riley had one more prep season.
"Since he was 3 years old, we've been talking about winning the state championship with him as my starting quarterback," Todd Dodge told reporters after the game. "It was everything to me."
Fourteen years later, father and son have another memorable moment planned in a big Texas stadium — only this time in different team colors.
As a third-year head coach, 32-year-old Riley Dodge is still sporting the Southlake Carroll black, white and green, while seven years ago his dad switched to the red, white and blue of Austin Westlake.
On Saturday, the Dodges clash in the Texas 6A Division 1 championship game in what's being called either The Dodge Bowl or Dodge Ball 2021.
And while most want to bring up the bloodlines and superlative prep playing careers of the head coaches, Todd and Riley would rather focus on the current players from their current Top 10 MaxPreps Top 25
teams that each took unlikely paths to AT&T Stadium for the state's premier game.
Both squads were considerable semifinal underdogs, and each spoiled a much-anticipated third consecutive finals matchup pitting North Shore (Houston) against Duncanville.
Instead, then 21st-ranked Southlake Carroll (12-1) fought from behind to outscore then fourth-ranked Duncanville 13-0 in the second half for a 34-27 victory at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
All fired up
Sophomore running back Owen Allen
rushed 33 times for 192 yards and two touchdowns and Ohio State-bound quarterback Quinn Ewers
accounted for two touchdowns to avenge lopsided season-ending defeats to Duncanville the last two years and send the No. 10 Dragons back to the state finals for the first time since 2011.
Besides revenge, they were motivated to win for Riley Dodge, who had to miss the game after testing positive for COVID-19. He should be cleared to lead the Dragons on Saturday into the house that Jerry Jones built. Moments after the Duncanville win Riley Dodge called Ewers, the nation's top-rated junior quarterback who was celebrating on the field.
"He's fired up," Ewers told the Dallas Morning News
. "He just wants to be back here. It hurt him so bad to not be able to be out here against a great team like Duncanville. Him being able to see this and us pulling it off, he's just so excited."
During the week, Riley Dodge told the newspaper: "To say you're in the final two in the state of Texas, and the guy you're going to compete against is your father, it's pretty unbelievable."
And quite a daunting task. Todd Dodge boasts a 217-70 career record and is considered one of the state's greatest prep coaches. After his stint at North Texas, Todd Dodge returned to the prep ranks at Marble Falls for two seasons before moving to Westlake in 2014.
He's gone 87-12 since, winning the school's second state crown in 2019 with a 24-0 victory over Guyer in the 6A Division 2 championship — the first since Drew Brees led the Chaparrals to a 1996 crown.
Westlake (13-0), the reigning 6A-2 champions, moved up to 6A Division 1 in 2020 and Saturday stunned two-time defending champion and then-No. 2 North Shore 24-21 at Legacy Stadium in Katy. The victory exorcised a 21-14 overtime loss to the Mustangs in the 2015 6A-1 title game and extended the Chaps' win streak to 23 games while snapping North Shore's at 29.
Westlake was in control of Saturday's game most of the day and trailed once, 21-17 with 4:16 to play. But the Chaps drove 69 yards, capped by a 1-yard keeper on fourth down by quarterback Cade Klubnik
with 1:43 left for the go-ahead score. The defense, led by linebackers Christian Fournier
and Nick Morris
, held from there against an offense that had scored at least 30 in 14 previous wins.
The fourth-quarter deficit was Westlake's first all season.
"I think that's what I'm most proud of," Todd Dodge told the Austin Statesman
. "Even though we'd never been in that situation, no one panicked. They went out and got it done."
A 47-yard pass from Klubnik to Michael Taaffe
keyed the game-winning drive.
"A big-time player stepped up big time in a big-time game and that was Cade Klubnik," Todd Dodge said.
The 57-year-old Dodge definitely knows something about the position.
He was a record-breaking quarterback at Thomas Jefferson (Port Arthur), becoming the first in state history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season, going for 3,135 in 1980 while leading his team to the 5A state championship game.
He set state marks for most career completions at the time (382) and in a season (221), while trailing only future NFL quarterback Gary Kubiak in career passing yards.
After a fine college career at the University of Texas (he was 9-5-1 as a starter), he immediately pursued his true calling — coaching — going 24-35 over six seasons at three high schools before turning Southlake Carroll into a national power.
Twice named national Coach of the Year, his teams won two mythical national crowns but his most memorable was likely in 2006, leading the Dragons to their last of three straight titles, but first at the state's highest classification, then 5A-1.
Riley, a junior, was his quarterback and threw for 4,184 yards and 54 touchdowns, which ranks third all-time in state history, utilizing dad's no-huddle spread attack. He also rushed for 1,119 yards and 13 scores, and was the national MaxPreps Player of the Year.
In his dad's final game, he outdueled Westlake quarterback Nick Foles, who threw for 299 yards.
"I've been waiting since I was a little kid to win a state championship," Riley told reporters after the game. "To finish out in my dad's final game, it's unbelievable."
Following a superb senior season, Riley went on to play for his dad at North Texas and then McNeese State. Many believe he would have reached the NFL if not for a series of injuries.
Riley was an assistant at Texas A&M and Texas, before getting the offensive coordinator position at Marcus (Flower Mound) and Northwest (Justin) then earning his current coveted position at Southlake Carroll in 2018.
The Riley Special
At 29, he was the youngest head coach in Texas at the time, and never spent a day in that position. Yet, he was taking over one of the state's premier jobs for the eight-time state champion Dragons.
Obviously, he was ready.
Carroll went 13-1 in each of his first two seasons before being eliminated by Duncanville — that's why Saturday's win was so emotional — and now the 12-1 Dragons are one win away from title No. 9.
Todd Dodge always knew his son was something of a coaching natural.
In 2018, he told the Dallas Morning News of how Riley, at the age of 6, used to draw up plays on church pamphlets. Todd, in fact, said he used one of them in his first job at Yoe (Cameron) to win a game in the final seconds. The play has been forever known in the family as "The Riley Special."
Whoever uses it first might decide Saturday's first meeting between this father and son.
They were scheduled to meet to start the season, but COVID-19 wiped the game out. Now, that meeting comes at the end of the year on the state's biggest stage.
Since the 2006 title tilt, the teams have split two games with Westlake winning 20-14 in 2015 after Southlake Carroll prevailed 17-14 in 2014.
"The Dodge Bowl, we were excited for that first game of the year and were sad to see it get canceled," Allen told the Dallas Morning News on Saturday. "Knowing that it is rescheduled as the state championship game is exciting, and we're ready for it."
Elizabeth Dodge could never be prepared for this.
She's Todd's wife and Riley's mom. According to Dallas Morning News columnist Kevin Sherrington, she'll be wearing a Southlake Carroll cap and a button of her son during his quarterback days with the Dragons. Otherwise, the rest her outfit will feature Westlake colors. He father Ebbie Neptune is a former coach and athletic director at Westlake.
In a call this week between Elizabeth, Todd and her son, Riley reportedly told his mom jokingly: "You married dad, but I'm your blood."
But she grew up bleeding Westlake red, white and blue.
No doubt, no matter what the results come Saturday, the Dodges will be spill some tears and relief. In some regard, all will win and lose, which is not easy to do.