PORT ARTHUR — Don’t let first impressions fool you. The Memorial Titans came to play football.
In spite of a sporadic first half that saw missed opportunities and a plethora of penalties, the Titans rebounded to defeat Deer Park 19-16 in the opening week of District 21-5A play at Memorial Stadium.
“When we went in at the half, we told our kids that there wasn’t anything Deer Park was doing to stop us; we were stopping ourselves,” said Memorial Head Coach Kenny Harrison. “I told our guys that we needed to settle down and play football.”
The Titans, now 3-2 for the season, ran deep into Deer Park territory but couldn’t convert for touchdowns, settling for a pair of Ricardo Estupinan field goals for a 6-0 advantage heading into the second quarter.
Already up 3-0 after a 47-yard kick by Estupinan, it appeared the Titans would go up big after a blocked Deer Park punt. Meldrick Matthews broke through the Deer Park line for the block, which caromed all the way back to the DP 8 yard line where Memorial’s Dante Lovilotte fell on the ball.
True to PAM’s luck in the first half, three consecutive penalties forced the Titans backwards and the home team had to settle for the 25-yard FG from Estupinan and a 6-0 lead.
That’s when Deer Park’s offense came to life, scoring on touchdown runs of 25 yards by Connor Means and 1 yard by Trey Farmer to give the Deer a 14-6 advantage heading into the halftime break. Means finished as Deer Park’s top offensive worker, finishing with 100 yards on 12 carries.
“Our guys had a lot of jitters,” Harrison said. “It was the first district game after coming off a tough loss last week. We had guys pressing, trying to do too much. We were up against a tough opponent and our kids were excited. They made some mistakes.”
The second half was a different story.
The Titans took a Deer Park punt and, starting at its own 14, Memorial marched 86 yards in 10 plays, capped by a 12-yard TD run by Tayylor Labrie. The extra point kick was blocked and returned by Cody Page for two points, leaving DP up 16-12 with 4:29 left in the third quarter.
Memorial forced another punt on DP’s next possession, then reeled off 61 yards in seven plays with Labrie crossing from two yards out, handing the Titans a 19-16 lead with 11:51 left in the game.
Key to Memorial’s second half resurrection was an effective ground game that called on four different backs to get the job done. “We knew we’d be on the ground. We have four quality backs and our plan was to control the ball,” Harrison said. “They are one of the best offensive teams in the district and we knew we needed to keep them off the field.”
Kameron Martin led the backfield with 90 yards on 16 carries while Labrie finished with 50 yards on 12 totes, adding 99 yards on 8 of 15 passing.
Deer Park would get three more chances to get back out in front but the Titans defense stood up and forced two punts and C.J. Levine picked off a pass to end the Deer’s final drive.
“This is big,” Harrison said. “Any time you can get a win in the first district game, it’s a big one. This is a tough district from top to bottom, so any time you get a win, it’s a huge accomplishment.”