The Port Arthur News
Dylan East’s 18-yard field goal with :08.4 seconds remaining capped a furious fourth quarter rally and gave Port Neches-Groves a 22-21 come-from-behind win over Ozen Friday night at the Thomas Center.
The Indians improved to 6-3 overall and 4-2 in District 20-4A and, more importantly, secured a playoff berth. Trailing 21-7 entering the fourth quarter, PN-G scored 15 unanswered points to pull out the post-season clinching win.
“Really proud of our kids and our coaches,” said PNG head coach Brandon Faircloth. “We talk to our kids all the time about not giving up and tonight was a great example. Hopefully, this is something they can take with them for a very long time. Don’t ever give up and keep trying and it’ll go your way.”
PNG’s defense forced a clutch three-and-out by the Panthers, and the offense possession following a 35-yard punt at its own 37 started with just under three minutes left in regulation. Ky Walker started the drive by hitting Kaleb Sparks for a 32-yard completion to the Ozen 31.
Facing fourth-and-11, Walker connected with Jeremiah Rose for 18 yards to the Panthers 14. Three straight runs of 3, 6 and 5 yards by Brant Halfin put the ball at the Ozen 1. Walker spiked the ball to stop the clock and East delivered the game-winning kick.
The Indians completed dominated the second half, putting together four drives that were at least 10 plays long. Meanwhile, the PNG defense limited the Panthers to just 10 offensive plays in the second half.
“Our defense played really well and came up the some big stops in the fourth quarter,” said Faircloth. “We always talk about playing a full 48 minutes and tonight was the definition of a full 48 minute game.”
Trailing 14-7, the Indians put together a 14-play drive all the way to the Ozen 3. PN-G perfectly executed a fake punt from its own 30 when up back Michael Hughes hit Reese Wardlow for 33 yards to the Ozen 37.
Facing third-and-goal from the 3, Walker’s throw-back pass intended for Wardlow was intercepted at the goal line by Ozen’s Tony Brown and returned 100 yards to put the Panthers up 21-7 with 4:29 remaining in the third quarter.
PN-G responded with a 16-play, 73-yard scoring drive. The Indians got their running game going as Halfin carried five times for 24 yards. Walker kept the drive alive with a clutch 10-yard pass to Rose on fourth-and-10 to put the ball at the Ozen 25.
Three consecutive runs by Halfin put the ball at the 3. Adam Morse scored on a 3-yard quarterback draw, his second of the game. East’s extra-point was wide left to leave the score 21-13.
After forcing another Ozen three-and-out, the Indians mounted a 10-play scoring drive. Walker hit Rose for 31-yards and followed with an 8-yard completion to Wardlow to put the ball at the Ozen 16. Rose scored three plays later on a 6-yard reverse. Morse was tackled short of the goal line on his two-point conversion attempt to make the score 21-19.
“I hope this gives us some momentum,” said Faircloth, on how this win can help the team heading into the playoffs. “As a coach, you’re always looking for that. You get a game like this and it can really help you. We’re really excited, but it’s right back to work. We still have some things to improve and we can still get better as a football team.”
The second half got off to an inauspicious start for the Indians, who took the kickoff trailing 12-7. Unable to get a first down, the Indians were forced to punt from their own 13. A low snap got past the punter and rolled out the back of the end zone for an Ozen safety to make the score 14-7.
PN-G wound up outgaining the Panthers 396 yards to 255. The Indians rushed for 112 yards and passed for another 284.
Halfin led all rushers with 102 yards on 24 carries. Walker completed 20-of-34 passes for 251 yards. His top target was Rose, who caught 12 passes for 151 yards. Wardlow had four catches for 64 yards and Avery Murdock hauled in three passes for 25 yards.
Quarterback Josh Boyd was the offensive standout for the Panthers. He completed 8-of-13 passes for 97 yards. He rushed for 69 yards on 14 carries. Rodney Randle carried the ball six times for 19 yards and caught two passes for 43 yards. Ronnie Ceasar had 55 yards rushing on four carries and hauled in two passes for 18 yards.
The Indians started the scoring on their second possession. After a 2-yard run by Halfin, Walker hit Rose for 40 yards to give PN-G first-and-goal at the 3. That set up Morse’s 3-yard quarterback draw to give PN-G a quick 7-0 lead.
The Panthers responded with a scoring drive of their own. The 8-play, 71-yard drive was capped by a 27-yard scoring strike from Boyd to Randle on a third-and-13 screen pass. The extra point was wide right to make the score 7-6.
Ozen (2-7, 2-4) scored the only points of the second quarter. The Panthers again used a long, sustained drive that covered 77 yards in 15 plays. A 12-yard pass from Boyd to Terrell Jenkins put the ball in Indian territory at the 43.
Boyd hit Ronnie Ceasar for 14 yards on third-and-nine to put the ball at the PNG 16. Randle capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run after taking a direct snap from center. Boyd’s pass on the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete to make the halftime score 12-7.