PNG, 3-0 at Stallworth, faces 12-0 Cougars

Published 10:17 pm Thursday, November 24, 2016

For only the second time under coach Brandon Faircloth, Port Neches-Groves is playing in a regional semifinal of a UIL football playoff.

In some ways, this season would naturally stand out from the seven others Faircloth has guided the Indians.

“It started with the adversity we faced this summer with some players who would be starters for us as returning lettermen,” Faircloth said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity through injuries, and we’ve just seen somebody step up and replace those guys. We’ve had great senior leadership. That helps with overcoming adversity.”

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Barbers Hill and Fort Bend Willowridge have given PNG (11-1) their best shots in the 5A Division II playoffs, but the Indians have passed both tests. They’ve had to without two key playmakers in wide receiver Keynel McZeal and running back Preston Hughes in the postseason.

“When you lose Keynel McZeal and Preston Hughes, that takes away some red zone offense,” Faircloth said, talking about the Indians’ struggles finishing some drives as of late. “When you lose two players like that, it does set you back in the plays you can run and how you can move people around.”

But the chase for the Indians’ first state championship in 41 years has been far from adverse as a whole.

Wide receiver Dylan McGough has been on a postseason tear, scoring three touchdowns against BH in the bi-district game at Lamar and another against Willowridge. Quarterback Roschon Johnson has rushed for three straight 200-yard games, starting with his six-touchdown attack on Nederland in the Bum Phillips Bowl, and totaled more than 400 yards of offense in both playoff games.

And a freshman named Gavin Deslatte has entered his name into PNG lore with his debut performance a week ago.

One cannot forget the excellence of PNG’s defense, whom Faircloth said “has done what they’ve been doing all year long.”

Now, the Indians return to the scene of their most recent battle, looking to improve to 4-0 this year at Stallworth Stadium in Baytown tonight and acting once again as the home team.

Standing in the way of a trip to the regional final is College Station (12-0), a fifth-year high school that’s won 30 games in the past three years.

“I think they have a great defense,” Faircloth said. “They haven’t given up many points in any games this year. They have a really athletic quarterback. Another quarterback is injured, but the one they play is very talented. They have a big, humongous offensive line.”

The Cougars have scored 48 or more points nine times this season, including a 63-25 win last Saturday against Magnolia. Five of the Cougars’ opponents have been held to single digits or shut out.

“I think our kids have done a really good job of just staying focused each week this season,” College Station coach Steve Huff said. “We have a good core group of seniors that have provided great leadership for our team.”

Huff and the Cougars are prepared to undertake a defensive challenge of their own in trying to slow down Johnson — among other skill players.

“I would say overall this year, we have not seen a QB that has dominated the line of scrimmage like he has,” Huff said. “We have seen both run-heavy and pass-heavy teams this year, but his balance of the two has been impressive.”

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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