By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
The big-screen movie "Friday Night Lights" from 2004 shined a big light on high school football in Texas. That was followed by a long-running and popular television series by the same name.
The Menlo School football team got a chance to be a part of that real-life experience last weekend when it traveled to San Angelo to face Central High under the lights, albeit Saturday night.
"Great experience," said Menlo Athletic Director Craig Schoof, who made the trip. "Truly, Friday Night Lights. Boy, football is really king in Texas! Everyone in town was extremely friendly and helpful."
Added Menlo head coach Mark Newton: "We had a fantastic experience."
Central plays in the same district as Permian, Odessa and Midland, among others. All three schools were featured in the movie and TV series, with Permian being the focus of the story about the 1988 team that reached the 5A state finals before losing. Permian went on to win the state crown in 1989.
Menlo, meanwhile, came away from its season opener with a resounding 84-49 loss and, perhaps, with a better appreciation of what Texas football is all about.
"We set up four TDs for them with uncharacteristic turnovers," said Newton. "The last score of the game was a forward pass called a fumble that, if ruled a fumble, was not in San Angelo Central possession when the player went out of bounds. So, although the score wasn't close and the numbers were in another stratosphere, we did some things well."
Despite holding a 64-43 lead late in the in third quarter, San Angelo Central put their starters back in because, Newton noted, "they weren't comfortable with a 21-point lead and their second offense in the game."
"Honestly," said Schoof, "other than the first quarter of the game (a 50-13 lead for Central) and the couple of injuries we had -- but it is football and those happen no matter who or where you play -- there is nothing I would change. I am so glad I went."
Added Menlo quarterback Jack Heneghan, who wrote home after the loss:
"It was a very tough night and a disappointing game," he said. "Our guys fought hard the whole way and battled through a lot of adversity. We know what we need to improve on and we will get better from this loss."
Heneghan did his best to keep the Knights in the game as he completed 29 of 51 passes for a career-high 411 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for two scores. The passing yardage reportedly is the most allowed by San Angelo Central in school history.
Heneghan now ranks No. 3 all-time at Menlo for single-game passing yards, trailing only Danny Diekroeger's 470- and 451-yard games in 2009. Heneghan's previous best was 393 yards last season.
Prior to facing Central, Heneghan passed along some thoughts to Menlo's web site on how the trip was going:
"We have had a really great trip so far," he wrote. "We visited the school for lunch and a West Texas barbecue with (Central) for dinner. Hanging out with the other team's players has been fun and it's been great getting to learn about how they do football down here."
San Angelo Stadium has a video board, 17,500-person capacity and seating three-quarters around the bowl. Temperatures reached nearly 100 degrees last week in San Angelo and a crowd of nearly 8,000 was expected.
"Our players played incredibly hard and showed a tremendous amount of toughness and resiliency," said Newton. "In addition, along every step of the trip I received compliments about what fine young men they are and how respectful and polite they are to everyone. Overall, a huge success!"
Schoof, however, said it's very unlikely the teams will meet again.
"It's not something you can do on a regular basis, due to missed school and cost," he said.
Schoof wasn't certain how much the game cost Menlo as he was awaiting final totals this week.
"They kick back half of the gate and I haven't gotten that number yet," he said. "They paid for bus, all meals and $2,000 credit for hotel. So, basically, we had to cover air and about 75 percent of hotel cost. But, supposedly, Scotts Valley got a check for about $18,000 from the gate last year."
Menlo also did some fundraising prior to the game to help keep costs to a minimum.
Scotts Valley originally had Central on its schedule after making the trip to Texas last year, but had to cancel this time. A phone call from Scotts Valley head coach Lou Walters to Newton opened the door for the Knights to make the trip. Scotts Valley traveled to face host Central last season and dropped a 40-7 decision.