History of PA vs. PNG runs deep
Published 9:41 pm Thursday, October 13, 2016
Port Arthur Memorial versus Port Neches-Groves is not yet a rivalry, but that doesn’t mean history will not be made Friday night.
For the first time since 2001, a team from Port Arthur faces the Indians when the Titans host PNG at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
It is the first meeting between the two schools since Memorial opened in 2002 after the merger of Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln and Stephen F. Austin. The Titans have faced 46 different opponents since then, and the Indians have taken on 33.
“From a community standpoint, there are a lot of memories from Thomas Jefferson and Lincoln playing Port Neches-Groves High School,” Memorial coach and former TJ player Kenny Harrison said. “We have a guy on campus, Bobby Leopold, that spoke to the kids the other day. His only loss was to Port Neches the year the Indians went and won the state championship. So, he is fired up about this.
“I am sure there are a lot of people that are fired up about the game. Both teams are undefeated, so that makes the game special.”
Leopold played at Lincoln in the 1970s and to this day holds one grudge against the Indians. Leopold won a national championship with Notre Dame in 1977 and a Super Bowl in the 1981 season as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
The one thing he never won? A high school state championship because of one team, the Indians. The Indians won 29-0 in 1975.
“We only lost one district game that year,” Leopold said. “I thought I was the only one who still thought about that until last Friday, [when] I ran into John McZeal in H-E-B. He was a teammate of mine in 1975 at Lincoln and his son is the receiver at PNG [Keynel McZeal]. He even said if we beat PNG that year, we would have gone on to win a state championship and not PNG. So I am not alone in still remembering that one loss in 1975 to PNG.”
The last time a PNG team faced a Port Arthur team was in 2001. The Indians lost 28-21 to the TJ Yellow Jackets and lost 45-13 to the Lincoln Bumblebees.
The first time a team from Port Neches faced a team in Port Arthur was back in 1928. Port Neches lost to Port Arthur ‘B’ 21-2.
Port Arthur High became TJ in 1933. Score records held by The News show Port Neches beat Port Arthur ‘B’ 26-13 that year.
Port Neches faced Port Acres and won 28-13 in 1938. Port Arthur St. Mary’s beat Port Neches 6-0 in 1941.
The first time the score listings show Port Arthur again, after TJ was renamed, is in 1944 and Port Neches lost 89-0.
Port Neches-Groves High School was formed in 1956. The Yellow Jackets defeated the Indians 14-12 that season.
The first score listed between PNG and Lincoln is in 1967. The Bumblebees won 14-7.
“This game seems to be making a lot of people feel young again,” PNG coach Brandon Faircloth said. “PNG versus Port Arthur makes you feel like you are back in the 60s and 70s. It was a great rivalry and them dropping down to 5A gets it back going again. I know both communities are excited. We have some players whose dads played at TJ. There are some family things involved, so it makes it special. It is an exciting game to be a part of.”
Former PNG great Jeff Bergeron is one of those people who are excited to see the two communities come together again on the football field.
Bergeron played running back for the Indians from 1970 to 1972. PNG went 1-2 against Lincoln and 2-1 against TJ in that span.
“When I think back to those days, I think of both TJ and Lincoln as our rivals,” Bergeron said. “I always said if TJ and Lincoln were to combine, everyone was in trouble. But I can never think of TJ without Lincoln. PNG had so many years without TJ and Lincoln that our rivalry with Nederland grew bigger. I really like this. Memorial and PNG can really grow back into that rivalry.”
Bergeron also confirmed the few tales of pranks between the Port Arthur and PNG schools.
“Oh, we lost several wooden totem poles through the years,” he added. “There were always pranks, but that was done in a time when it was friendly.”
PNG’s totem pole is now made of steel.
This game means a lot to the city of Port Arthur, which has been without a rival of any kind since Memorial’s inception.
“We don’t know those teams like George Ranch,” Leopold said. “We still followed teams like Vidor, PNG and Nederland in the paper. I know this game is going to be sold out. I told the team on Tuesday, Memorial Stadium has not seen a crowd like it will see Friday since my high school days. It is going to be a great game.”
Gabriel Pruett: 721-2436. Twitter: @PaNewsGabe