For Bum’s Trophy: Indians-Bulldogs renewal carries plenty of weight
Published 12:03 am Friday, November 4, 2016
PORT NECHES — It all comes down to this.
Week 11, the final week of the regular season in the state of Texas. There will be two teams meeting at The Reservation, and it is the 93rd time the rivals have met on the field.
The Nederland Bulldogs and Port Neches-Groves Indians face off at 7 p.m. Friday in a game called Mid-County Madness for the Bum Phillips Bowl Trophy.
Just when it’s thought this game could not get any bigger, it did with the Bulldogs fighting for their playoff lives.
“I say every year the game can’t get any bigger, and it did again,” PNG coach Brandon Faircloth said about the game being played on Week 11. “It is the biggest game in the state of Texas for a reason. Our kids are excited. We have worked all week to be able to put our kids in a position to be successful.”
There is a lot on the line for the Bulldogs, who are currently fourth in the District 22-5A standings.
Nederland has two different ways to reach the postseason. If the Bulldogs lose to the Indians, Nederland gets in if Livingston loses at home against Ozen.
The Bulldogs are the only team out of themselves, Central and Livingston to control their own destiny. If Nederland wins tonight, the Bulldogs clinch a playoff spot for the ninth straight season.
“Our approach to this game has not changed in the 24 years I have been here,” Nederland coach Larry Neumann said. “You have to treat every play as if it is going to be the most important play and expect the last play to be the one to determine the game. It is a mental state of mind that we try to promote with our players to create more focus and more sense of urgency.”
There is another streak on the line that will have the Indians playing as motivated as the Bulldogs. Nederland has defeated PNG six straight times and has brought home the Bum Phillips Bowl Trophy both years it has been up for grabs.
“We have all the respect in the world for coach Neumann, his staff and the Nederland players,” Faircloth said. “Both teams are going to be as motivated as they can be come Friday night. I promise you the PNG Indians are going to be motivated to win this football game.”
The Bulldogs are going to have to find a way to slow down PNG sophomore quarterback Roschon Johnson.
He leads an offense that is second in District 22-5A by averaging 403.2 yards per game. Johnson has thrown for 1,723 yards and rushed for another 799 with 30 total touchdowns.
“Roschon is in the infancy of his development,” Neumann said. “He is really good right now. The future is extremely bright for him, and we have great respect for his abilities. He is not all they got on offense. They have great receivers and Preston Hughes does a great job back there with a solid offensive line.”
He is not alone on offense with running back Preston Hughes rushing for 894 yards and nine touchdowns and receivers Keynel McZeal and Preston Riggs combining for 63 receptions, 564 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Neumann said the PNG offense has a lot of great players, but the motor starts and stops with linebacker Logan LeJeune.
“He is a difference maker by the way he plays the game,” Neumann added. “I think it is contagious.”
Faircloth and his Indians prepared all week to face one of the district’s most dynamic running backs in Nederland junior Devon Simmons. He has rushed for 828 yards on 121 carries with eight touchdowns.
“He is one of those guys that can score in a hurry,” Faircloth said. “We have to keep an eye on him and also [Connor] Perkins. Both of those guys can score from anywhere on the field.”
Junior Marshall Lange is expected to start at quarterback for the Bulldogs after sophomore Blaysin Fernandez dislocated his hip in last week’s win over Lumberton. Fernandez was also a key member of the Bulldogs’ defense at linebacker.
Faircloth also knows his offense is going to have to stay its course against a very opportunistic Nederland defense. The Bulldogs have nine interceptions this year, six by sophomore Noah Lewis alone, and has taken away eight fumbles.
“They are going to get after you,” Faircloth said. “They never quit and that comes from the coaching staff over there. They are going to be in the right spots.”
So how big is this game? What is it like to coach in a game pitting Nederland against PNG? Faircloth actually described it best before last year’s game.
“There is nothing better,” Faircloth said in 2015. I have coached in multiple state championship games and that is the type of atmosphere it is. It is the same as those. It is loud and electric. It really is incredible.”
Neumann agrees with his counterpart, at least on this topic.
“To be in an environment like that once a year, I have never been in a state championship game, but it has to be like that,” Neumann said. “The only other thing I have been in like it is the year we beat [Pearland] Dawson in the regional semifinals at NRG. It still wasn’t the same. I remember how I felt that night and it was unbelievable. But, it wasn’t the same.”
Strap in, fans. That experiences is only hours away.
Gabriel Pruett: 721-2436. Twitter: @PaNewsGabe
NEDERLAND (4-5) AT PORT NECHES-GROVES (8-1)
- When: 7 p.m. Friday
- Where: The Reservation
- Radio: KCOL-FM 92.5; KLVI-AM 560
- Television: Spectrum Sports Channel 323, 11 p.m. Friday
- 22-5A records: Nederland 4-3, PNG 6-1
- Series record: PNG leads series 48-37-7; last meeting, Nederland won 30-27 in 2015