The young and the restless: Underclassmen serving PNG backfield well

Published 10:36 pm Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The first group Port Neches-Groves football coach Brandon Faircloth mentioned from his team Tuesday was the senior class.

It’s a class that helped the Indians reach the third round of the UIL playoffs for the first time in six years and has won a share of the District 22-5A championship each of the past two years.

“When you have a team like we do with great seniors and great leadership, you want to hang onto every moment as long as you can,” he said. “We’re very blessed to be in the third round of the playoffs. It’s not easy to do. To accomplish this, I’m proud of our coaches and players to get this far. We’re trying to enjoy every minute of it.”

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The season will also be remembered for the way youth served the Indians.

An unlikely storyline developed last week when PNG (11-1) prepared for Fort Bend Willowridge in the 5A Division II area round: A freshman would start at running back.

Not only that, Gavin Deslatte made a first impression to remember, rushing 12 times for 108 yards and a touchdown. Faircloth moved him up with regular starter Preston Hughes still out with a foot injury.

Hey, sophomore quarterback Roschon Johnson couldn’t have all the fun, although it seemed otherwise with 402 total offensive yards.

“Everybody’s good in the playoffs, so you’ve got to bring your A-game,” Johnson said after the win. “Every game, every snap. You can’t take a play off. Everybody’s stepping their game up.”

Senior Logan LeJeune, who started at running back in the bi-district round win over Barbers Hill, wasn’t surprised at what Deslatte could do.

“I watched him in the freshman games, and he is just an animal,” LeJeune said Friday. “When I was talking with him in the locker room, I told him, run your heart out. He said, ‘I got this team right here.’ He just put the team on the back, really.”

Deslatte’s long of 31 yards gave the Indians the insurance touchdown.

Deslatte and Johnson nearly accounted for all of the Indians’ 532 total yards against Willowridge, but Faircloth also goes back to the more experienced players who’ve been key cogs during one of his most successful seasons at the helm.

“That young backfield has a great offensive line in front of them,” the coach said. “We have good receivers. This whole season, we’ve played great defense. When you’ve got a team that knows how to win, it makes a difference.”

College Station (12-0) knows how as well.

The Cougars, whose high school was established in 2012 with freshmen and sophomores, have won 30 games in the past three years. The closest they came to defeat this year was a 17-16 win at Temple, which faces Port Arthur Memorial in the 5A Division I playoffs Saturday in Cypress. Memorial handed PNG its lone defeat, 33-28.

PNG trailed Willowridge twice but remained resilient, as Faircloth noted, in their win. It’s just another quality of the Indians, who now mix experience with youth.

“Our kids are resilient,” Faircloth said. “They play the next play. They don’t get too up, they don’t get too down. They continue to fight. Forty-eight minutes is a long time. They keep their heads down, they keep playing and they keep doing their jobs. When the game’s over, we’ll look at the scoreboard.”

PNG will hold a practice open to the public at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. The Athletic Booster Club will provide donuts, milk and juice. Visitors may bring their own coffee or hot chocolate and lawn chairs.

PNG fans are also invited to bring good-luck signs to a send-off gathering Friday. Buses will leave at 3 p.m. and may not pass in front of the high schools, so visitors are asked to line up Merriman Street from New Avenue, or the gymnasium parking lot, all the way to Pure Atlantic Drive.

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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