, Port Arthur, Texas

September 7, 2013

Port Neches-Groves stays perfect, beats West Orange-Stark

Tom Halliburton
The Port Arthur News

— On a night when almost anything could happen, the seemingly unthinkable did.

    The Port Neches-Groves Indians, torching West Orange-Stark’s vaunted defense with  a big-play offensive assault, defeated the state-ranked Mustangs 37-34. The last time the Tribe tamed the Ponies, most of the kids on the field had not yet even been born.

    In a game that saw multiple turnovers, well over 200 yards of combined penalty yards, and several acrobatic, circus-style plays, the Indians held on for the win. The victory over the Mustangs, who are ranked No. 10 in Class 3A, is the first over WO-S for PN-G since the 1996 season when the Indians claimed an uncharacteristic blowout, 35-7.

    The Indians, who are now 2-0 after last week’s shellacking of Silsbee, proved they are for real, as they rolled against the typically staunch Mustangs defense, while also limiting WO-S offensively for much of the game.

    At times, the Indians appeared in full control of Friday night’s game at the Reservation but true to Mustang style, WO-S managed a comeback in the waning moments of the contest.

    PN-G stacked up 25 first downs, 424 total yards, scored four times on plays of 40 yards or longer and overcame four turnovers. The Indians also had a 64-yard pass and run stopped at the one. Quarterback Ky Walker, though picked off twice, completed 13 of 28 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns, while tailback Brant Halfin, despite losing two fumbles, roared for 197 yards and three TDs on 27 carries.

    WO-S, meanwhile, had three scoring plays over 40 yards, two touchdowns called back and lost two turnovers inside the PN-G 10. Chris James, who rushed for 153 yards on only 10 carries, had an 89-yard scoring run for the Mustangs.

    The Indians held a 23-14 lead heading into the second half and padded that with a TD early in the third quarter as Halfin sprinted 40 yards for the score and a 30-14 advantage.

    WO-S, now 1-1, answered in quick fashion, going 73 yards in three plays, aided by a 15-yard penalty, as Tre Spencer was the recipient of a tipped pass from Mustang QB Dillon Sterling-Cole. Spencer found himself with the ball and a wide-open field of grass as he netted 56 yards and the score to close the gap to 30-21 with 10:17 left in the quarter.

    PN-G would fumble on its next possession and Mustang Elijah Teel would pick up the ball for a 35-yard TD recovery. But a penalty flag brought the ball back, the second touchdown of the night negated by a yellow hankie, and the Mustangs were eventually forced to punt.

    PN-G fumbled again two plays into its next possession but again, WO-S was unable to convert on the freebie.

    The Indians put together a legitimate drive on their next possession, moving 85 yards in eight plays, capped by a 43-yard TD pass from Walker to senior fullback Reece Wardlow for a 37-21 lead with 1:37 left in the third.

    The Mustangs, certainly under the heat of the ticking clock, worked their next possession down the field and into the fourth quarter where they would eventually pick their way into the end zone on a 1-yard run by Sterling-Cole. The score stood at 37-27 in favor of the Indians and it seemed logical to go for two points to pull the game to within one score. Inexplicably, the Mustangs kicked the extra point, leaving them trailing 37-28 and nine points behind.

    The Mustangs defense stiffened and eventually WO-S found the end zone again when Sterling-Cole crossed from 7 yards out after orchestrating a masterful drive that went 83 yards in eight plays. A missed kick left the Ponies trailing 37-34 with 2:20 left in the game.

    The Indians were forced to punt on their next possession and the Mustangs had the makings of a comeback with 1:11 left in the game.

    West Orange-Stark was forced to start from its own one after a fantastic pooch-punt by Walker. A penalty and back-to-back double-digit pass completions by Sterling-Cole started the Mustangs down the field.

    In the end, the clock undid the Mustangs’ hopes of a recovery. With Sterling-Cole tackled in the field of play with no time-outs remaining and the Mustangs unable to get lined up to spike the ball, the final second fell off the clock and the Indians sprinted from the field with the win.

    The first half was a woeful tale of mistakes and missed opportunities for the Mustangs, as they saw two drives inside the PN-G 10-yard line end thanks to turnovers.

    On the opening drive, the Mustangs moved down to the Indians 11, thanks in great part to a 44-yard run by James. Quarterback Chase Rutledge tossed an interception on a tipped ball grabbed by Jeremiah Rose. It was one of three turnovers — he also came up with two fumble recoveries — for PN-G’s two-way standout.

    Several punts later by both teams, West Orange-Stark had another chance to put the first points on the board, moving to the PN-G 19 on a pass from Rutledge to Chris Horn. But at the end of that run, Horn coughed up the ball.

    PN-G took that free possession and started moving against the traditionally strong Mustang defense. Walker hurled the ball downfield and Deionte’ Thompson snatched the ball out of the air and went 41 yards for a Mustang touchdown and a 7-0 lead at the 1:27 mark of the first quarter.

    Before the Mustangs could enjoy their newfound advantage, the Indians came up with a one-play explosion that sent Halfin 78 yards for a score, knotting the game at 7-7 with 1:11 left in the quarter.

It appeared that the Mustangs would set out on their next drive to get something done but flags and missed offensive opportunities stalled WO-S, forcing a punt.

    PN-G managed a couple of incomplete passes and a few short-yardage runs to get to their own 35. Then Walker completed a pass to Kaleb Sparks for 64 down to the WO-S 1 yard line. From there Halfin bulled his way into the end zone for a 14-7 PN-G lead with 5:45 left in the half.

    After an unsuccessful Mustangs drive, the Indians took the ball but, likewise, were forced to punt. The ball was salvaged at the 1 yard line, forcing the Mustangs to take over the ball with their heels in their own end zone.

    Two plays later, junior linebacker Michael Hughes tackled the Mustangs quarterback in the end zone for the safety and a 16-7 PN-G lead.

    PN-G immediately got the ball back and in under a minute, the Indians were in the end zone again as Walker hit Rose for 45 yards and the score. Rose, who was the Indians’ premier receiver coming into Friday night’s game, had been thoroughly blanketed until the reception. He juked several Mustang defenders then dove into the end zone for the spectacular score and a 23-7 PN-G lead.

    On its next possession, WO-S fumbled and PN-G reciprocated with an interception on Walker’s first attempt.

    The Mustangs got back on the scoreboard again when, with their backs to their own goal post, James sprinted 89 yards for the touchdown, pulling WO-S to within 23-14 with 14 seconds left in the half.