MURRELL COLUMN: For Nederland and West Orange-Stark, bigger-than-usual challenge awaits

Published 12:29 am Friday, August 26, 2016

Is this not a present for football season or what?

Cornel Thompson vs. Larry Neumann. That says it all.

OK, not all.

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West Orange-Stark, which says plenty in itself, against Nederland, which says plenty as well. Defending 4A Division II champion vs. defending District 22-5A co-champion. Whichever team you root for, the other is a step up in usual competition.

This is what greets us to a new football season. Colleges, you’d better be ready next weekend.

Neumann, a Pasadena Dobie graduate, has a history with Thompson that goes back to 1982, when Neumann joined the Thomas Jefferson High staff and Thompson was  an assistant at WOS, his alma mater. Neumann’s Nederland teams have gone 6-11 against WOS since he took over the Bulldogs in 1993, winning the last meeting 21-20 in Thompson’s first season as the Mustangs’ head coach five years ago. (The Mustangs went 14-2 in the pre-Neumann era.)

“We’ve been colleagues, or opponents, and friends for a long time,” Thompson said. “We have the utmost respect for him and his program. I love to play that type of football. That’s the only way you’re going to get prepared for the future. You’re not going to prepare yourself or your football team by playing the weak sisters.”

Five straight 22-5A championships outright or shared are no sign of weakness. Neither are 28 victories and two state championship appearances in the past two seasons.

“I’ll tell you what we talked about West Orange-Stark in regards to,” Neumann said. “No. 1, great physicality. They play the game the absolute right way. They bring wood. They talk about being physical, and they are physical.”

Which brings to mind an interesting faceoff in the trenches, Nederland’s offensive line anchored by Rice commit Corbin Smith and center Burke Badon against WOS’ defensive line with Jalen Powdrill and Mandel Turner-King as the playmakers.

The flip side of it is pretty attractive, too: Ryan Ragsdale anchors a strong Mustangs’ O-line against a Bulldogs’ D-line that should see junior end Tiren Forney have an excellent season.

No, the playmaking abilities of WOS quarterback Jack Dallas or Nederland wideout Dean Fisher aren’t forgotten. But, watch the battle in the trenches just for a little while. It’ll shape up the game.

“To match them physically would be a feat in and of itself,” Neumann said. “That’s one of those things we try to pride ourselves in, is being a physical football team. I hope Friday night, No. 1, is evident in both teams. I know how they’re going to be. I hope [Thompson] will say the same thing about the Nederland Bulldogs, how physical we can be.”

Thompson feels the same way about the Bulldogs, recalling last year’s 39-31 scrimmage win over Nederland in West Orange.

“Both these football teams don’t normally give up that many points, but that was last year in a scrimmage,” Thompson said. “They’re well-coached and they’ll find a way to get the ball in the end zone. We’ve just got to stop them and be able to move the ball offensively.”

Neumann did cite big plays — whether making them or limiting them defensively — as key No. 2. The kicking game, in which Travis Wiedenfeld is taking over duties, is No. 3.

Nederland just named a starting quarterback in junior Marshall Lange, but Thompson on Monday said not knowing who would earn the job has had no effect on his defensive game plan.

“They’ll put an adequate guy who can lead the football team,” he said. “They’ll put him out there and run their offense. We’ve got some defensive weaknesses. I know where they’re at, and they’ll probably confirm them for us Friday night. That doesn’t change our approach to preparing for Nederland at all.”

Geez, I’d like to see those defensive weaknesses.

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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