City of Champions! Duncanville finally exorcizes North Shore demons, wins state title

Written by The Anand Market

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ARLINGTON — Duncanville is once again the City of Champions.

Coach Reginald Samples can finally celebrate the state championship that he had been waiting a lifetime for.

And the defense will go down in Duncanville lore after stopping Galena Park North Shore just inches short of a first down that could have led to a game-tying touchdown in the final minute of another all-time classic.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock Saturday night, Samples was doused with water and mobbed as the celebration began for Duncanville’s first football state title since 1998. This time, there was no Hail Mary, blocked field goal, Kyler Murray or fox running onto the field to deny Samples his first state championship in an acclaimed career that had been filled with heartbreak on the biggest stage in Texas high school football.

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The fact that Duncanville exorcized its demons and finally beat longtime antagonist North Shore at AT&T Stadium — which had been a house of horrors for Duncanville — made a 28-21 victory in the Class 6A Division I state championship game even sweeter.© Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News/TNS Duncanville running back Caden Durham (29) scampers for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter agaisnt Galena Park North Shore’s Devin Sanchez ((left) in the Class 6A Division I state championship football game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, December 17, 2022. Duncanville defeated North Shore, 28-21.

With four-star junior running back Caden Durham rushing for three touchdowns and being named the game’s offensive MVP, Duncanville (15-0) avenged losses to North Shore in 2018, 2019, and 2021 state title games. Durham, who couldn’t play in last year’s 17-10 loss to North Shore because of a back injury, had his 10th 100-yard rushing game of the season as Duncanville ended North Shore’s 28-game winning streak before a crowd of 40,056.

“It feels great,” Samples said. “It feels like all the hard work was worthwhile. To lose three times to the same person, it kind of haunts you. You kind of think it’s a jinx.”

What will Samples do to celebrate?

“I’m going to go home and rest,” he said. “Maybe next week it will hit me that I’ve won a state championship, but I didn’t get much sleep last night. I’m going to get up tomorrow and watch the Cowboys.”

4th-down plays

No play was bigger than Duncanville stopping North Shore quarterback David Amador a half-yard short of a first down on a fourth-and-4 run that reached the Duncanville 12 with 1:04 remaining and Duncanville clinging to a seven-point lead. Given how North Shore had broken Duncanville’s heart in the final minutes in past state finals, it had to seem like an eternity for Samples as the play was reviewed before the original call was upheld.

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© Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News/Tns&Nbsp;Duncanville Wide Receiver Keelon Russell (12) Cruises To A Second Quarter Touchdown Against Galena Park North Shore In The Class 6A Division I State Championship Football Game At At&Amp;T Stadium In Arlington, December 17, 2022.

“I was so afraid,” Samples said. “I had flashbacks of Hail Marys. Fear took over euphoria. I knew we stopped them, but it scared me.”

Durham’s 9-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat formation on fourth-and-1 gave Duncanville a 28-21 lead with 3:41 left in the third quarter. After three straight 200-yard games, Durham had 104 yards rushing, and he ran for 44 yards on that drive that gave Duncanville a lead it never relinquished.

“It means everything,” Durham said. “I told him when the season started, ‘I’m going to get you one, coach, I’m going to get you one.’ He was like, ‘All right, bet.’ And I got him one.

“Big-time players make big-time plays.”

North Shore (15-1) got the ball back at its 20-yard line with 2:17 remaining, down by seven and out of timeouts. Going into that drive, Duncanville’s defense had allowed minus-7 yards of offense in the second half as five-star edge rusher Colin Simmons dominated on his way to being named the game’s defensive MVP. Simmons had two sacks and finished the season with 22.5 sacks.

But runs of 19 and 11 yards by Amador, along with a pair of 15-yard face-mask penalties on the defense, moved the ball to the Duncanville 21-yard line with 1:26 left. Then came the final defensive stop that will be remembered forever, as Vernon Grant was credited with the game-saving tackle on fourth down. It was the last of his game-high 9.5 tackles.

“It was crazy out there,” Simmons said. “We didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. It was tense, it was built-up pressure. We had to stop them. That was everybody’s mind-set.”

City of Champions

Duncanville has now won 26 state titles in all sports since 1976. City of Champions is the first thing that pops up on the home page of the city’s website, and the Duncanville Chamber of Commerce uses the slogan to promote its community.

Duncanville finally experienced the high of all highs after a few months of turmoil within the athletic department. The Duncanville boys basketball team was stripped of last season’s state title by the UIL for using an ineligible player, and the team will forgo this season’s playoffs. The girls basketball team was banned from the playoffs this season by the UIL. And athletic director Dwight Weaver was reassigned to serve as a campus administrator.

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But Duncanville tuned out all of those distractions.

Duncanville became the first Dallas-area team to win a state title in 6A Division I since Allen in 2017. Duncanville also gave District 11-6A two state champions, with DeSoto beating Austin Vandegrift 42-17 in the 6A Division II title game earlier Saturday.

It was just the second time that two teams from the same district had won state titles in the same year. The other was Texas City and La Marque in 4A in 1997.

Samples is the winningest Black head coach in state history and now has 323 career wins. He helped Duncanville become the third south Dallas County school to win a state title in the last two days, joining South Oak Cliff and DeSoto.

He said DeSoto coach Claude Mathis stayed after DeSoto’s victory Saturday afternoon to wish him well and that SOC coach Jason Todd was the first to congratulate him on the field when the game was over.

It was just four years ago that Samples thought he might not be able to coach the 2018 season — or possibly ever again — because he had a herniated disc that was cutting into his sciatic nerve and causing so much pain that he could barely eat and had to use a cart to get around. But a man nicknamed the “Godfather” refused to quit and led Duncanville to the state championship game, where he watched in agony as North Shore threw a 45-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass on the game’s final play to beat the Panthers 41-36 in arguably the greatest game in state history.

Besides the Hail Mary, Samples lost the 2004 state final with Lincoln on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown in double overtime, saw his 2011 Skyline team blow a 10-point lead in the final two minutes of a state semifinal when Southlake Carroll scored the winning touchdown when a fox ran onto the field, and saw Murray erase an 18-point, third-quarter Skyline lead as Allen won a 2014 state semifinal on its way to a third consecutive state title.

Mission accomplished

Facing a North Shore team that was ranked No. 8 in the nation by MaxPreps, ninth-ranked Duncanville raced to a 14-0 lead on touchdown runs of 2 yards by Durham and 88 yards by quarterback Keelon Russell in a little over two minutes time. But anyone expecting a blowout hadn’t watched the last three meetings by these teams.

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Amador, a three-star wide receiver who moved to quarterback after a Week 5 injury to Kaleb Bailey, threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Smith with 10:24 left in the second quarter to spark North Shore’s comeback.

Amador has been spectacular as a runner all season, and he produced a highlight-reel 30-yard touchdown run to tie it 14-14 with 4:52 left in the second quarter. The teams then traded touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half, with Durham scoring on a 3-yard run and then Amador scoring on a 6-yard run.

Samples is an old-school coach who isn’t active on social media, a fact that made Durham laugh when it was brought up Thursday at Duncanville’s media availability session. In an age of prolific spread offenses, Samples has relied on two old-school traditions — a powerful running game and dynamic defense — to make it to five state finals in his career.

Duncanville has come close to winning state with a couple of star quarterbacks — All-American Ja’Quinden Jackson (now at Utah) on the 2018 and 2019 state runner-up teams and three-star Florida International signee Grayson James on the 2020 state semifinalist squad. Even Chris Parson, who was Duncanville’s backup in 2019 as a freshman and played in the state final after Jackson tore his ACL in the semifinals, ended up being a four-star recruit after moving to Tennessee and is now committed to Mississippi State.

This year, Russell didn’t even start the season opener and only took over as Duncanville’s full-time quarterback after Jameir Willis — who has an offer from Texas Tech — tore his ACL in that Week 1 game against South Oak Cliff. But Russell went from unheralded sophomore to state champion after running for 88 yards and a touchdown.

“Before it’s over, Keelon Russell will be one of the top quarterbacks in the area,” Samples said.

Earlier in the week, Samples was asked how much longer he plans to coach.

“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “I’m not thinking past Saturday. I’m trying to get this win Saturday.”

Mission accomplished. At last.

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