The Port Arthur News
NEDERLAND — It was odd to watch the Port Neches-Groves Indians turn into best friends of the Nederland Bulldogs Friday night in the 90th meeting of the two schools.
First it was penalties on the eventual game-wininng drive and later it would be the second interception of the night.
PN-G’s mistakes gave Nederland the chance to escape Mid County Madness with a 21-17 victory. It was the fourth victory in a row against the Indians for the Bulldogs. PN-G leads the series 48-35-7. The win also moved Nederland’s District 20-4A winning streak up to 21 games.
The Indians last attempt to overcome the Bulldogs for the first time since 2009 ended with Nederland junior Sage Seay intercepting his second pass of the game in the end zone with 30 seconds left.
Seay was all over the field on both sides of the ball. He had the two interceptions, he rushed for 31 yards and a touchdown and hauled in a team-high five receptions for 50 yards.
Nederland’s win meant the Bulldogs seniors never lost to PN-G. PN-G is now 2-2 in the district standings and Nederland moved up to 4-0.
“Coach (Larry) Neumann always tells us big players come up in big games,” Seay said. “I saw the ball in the air and I knew it was mine. Before every game the team says we are going to lay everything on the line for our seniors. Tonight we did just that.”
PN-G took its first lead of the night with 11:23 remaining in the game on a 35-yard field goal by Dylan East. The two teams then traded punts before Nederland started the eventual game-winning drive on its own 4-yard line.
The Bulldogs managed only seven yards on three plays and Neumann had no choice but to send his punt team on the field. Nederland’s special teams then drew PN-G offside and the Bulldogs got a fresh set of downs.
PN-G was then called for a pass interference and Nederland set up at their 32-yard line.
Neumann then called on his senior tight end who up to that point and not touched the football.
With 5:17 left in the game, Brandon Dial made his coach proud with a 37-yard run. PN-G was then called for another personal foul at the end of the run, setting Nederland up at the PN-G 16-yard line.
Quarterback Preston White, who sucked the PN-G defense in on a play fake to Kendrick Hopkins, scored three plays later from 4 yards out and the Bulldogs took the lead right back, 21-17.
PN-G looked to go back ahead on the next drive but the Indians possession stalled at the Nederland 5-yard line with 2:30 left in the game when the Bulldogs thwarted Brant Halfin on a 4th-and-2 running play.
Walker was 15-for-33 passing for 284 yards and looked his best in the fourth quarter. Kaleb Sparks hauled in two receptions for 45 yards on the Indians last drive but his 32-yard catch to give PN-G a first down at the Nederland 20 would be Walker’s last completion.
“We talked about this earlier in the week, that it would come down to the last play,” Neumann said. “It never matters who the true better team is because you have to prepare for the last play. I am starting to be too old to be surprised at the outcomes and plays. My hat goes off to PN-G. Those guys never gave up and played a really good football game tonight.”
Neumann understood his team allowed the Indians to stay close in the game by wasting valuable field possession in the first half.
Before a fumble recovery by Sean Culpepper late in the second quarter, PN-G’s average starting field possession in the first half was at the Indians 14-yard line.
“We squandered a few opportunities there in the first half,” Neumann said. “The credit has to go to the Indians for making the plays. We just couldn’t take advantage of the field possession being given to us.
“Then we get backed up the 4 and were able to sustain a drive because of some penalties. That was championship-style football on both sides tonight by both teams. There is a thin-dime difference in the outcome of this game. We were able to be the ones to make the final play.”
PN-G’s defense, except on Nederland’s opening drive, was lights out for Coach Brandon Faircloth.
Nederland running back Kendrick Hopkins, who entered the game second in 20-4A in rushing, was held to 67 yards before busting loose for a 28-yard run on his final carry of the night.
Hopkins finished with 95 yards and is a yard short of 3,000 for his career. Hopkins is second in rushing in the last 30 years for Nederland and trails only Micah Mosley. Mosley had an incredible 4,012 yards as a Bulldog.
PN-G’s offense came alive in the second half after finishing the first two quarters with a total of 56 yards.
The Indians first drive of the third quarter went 80 yards in 10 plays and finished with Sparks’ first touchdown of the game from 16 yards out.
Nederland broke the tie with 3:55 left in the third on a 8-yard run by Seay. Seay on the drive took over the quarterback duties from Preston White. White finished the night 6-for-12 passing for 61 yards.
“We worked a number of weeks with Sage coming in as quarterback,” Neumann said. “He is capable of doing a few more things in that role. We are able to add some variety to our offense with him back there.”
The scoring drive did not have to go far after a PN-G punt traveled only 18 yards and the Bulldogs started out on the Indians 19.
PN-G answered with a 76-yard drive that ended with Sparks once again in the end zone, this time from 30 yards out. Sparks finished the night with seven receptions for 138 yards.
PN-G would soon take its lead before doing the Bulldogs all the favors in the world on the game-winning possession.
Nederland defensive lineman DeShawn Washington was thrilled to know his career will end with no losses to the Indians.
“This is an awesome feeling,” Washington said. “It is great to know all the work we put in ends up paying off. PN-G did a great job in the second half adjusting to our defense by adding some crossing patterns. That last series we decided the result would stick with us for the rest of our lives.
We didn’t want it to be a bad memory. No words can explain how excited I am we were able to finish it off.”
Washington and the rest of the Nederland defense never allowed Brant Halfin to get going from his running back position. Halfin finished with 42 yards on 28 carries. Halfin came into Mid County Madness with 608 yards on the year, third best in 20-4A.
Nederland senior defensive lineman Beau Stewart had a monster game with two sacks on Walker, numerous pressures and several tackles.
The Bulldogs defense limited District 20-4A’s leading receiver Jeremiah Rose to five receptions for 50 yards.