Port Neches-Groves embrace underdog role as lowest remaining seed

Published 12:24 am Wednesday, November 24, 2021

PORT NECHES — The Port Neches-Groves Indians are one of 16 teams remaining in the 5A Division II playoffs. Prior to the start of the season, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine predicted PNG would miss the playoffs all together this season.

PNG takes on Texas High School at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Friday.

The last time PNG made it to the third round was 2018, capping off three straight years of making to the third round under then-quarterback Roschon Johnson.

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The 2018 squad fell to Fort Bend Marshall 53-14.

Last week was not the only time in 2021 the Indians have proved doubters wrong.

PNG quarterback Cole Crippen moves out of the pocket. (Chris Moore/The News)

The team defeated Barbers Hill and pushed Texas City to overtime. Both opponents went on to play in the second round of the playoffs.

PNG was not favored to beat Galena Park in the first round. Not only did the Indians come out with an upset win, PNG amassed 72 points, tying the highest point total in the school’s postseason history and breaking the record for margin of victory in the 72-20 win.

PNG defensive back Torryan Hinton said the run has been fun.

“I am thankful that I am still playing,” he said. “No one believed in us at the beginning of the season. I believe in my team, and we believed in each other. Now we are in the third round… I feel like we are playing with nothing to lose. We are the underdogs. We just go out there, have fun and try to come up with an upset. I am a basketball player so I am kind of missing out. But basketball can wait. I am having fun.”

Last week, PNG took on Montgomery, which entered the game as the No. 6 team in the state and sporting an undefeated season. The Indians controlled the game from start to finish, walking out of Stallworth Stadium with a 49-42 win over the Bears.

PNG running back Koby Trahan finds a lane against Montgomery. (Chris Moore/The News)

“It is a complete blessing,” Head Coach Brandon Faircloth said of playing in the third round. “For them to respond the right way and come to work every day and work hard is a true testament to them and our coaches. They have been resilient. We have had a season of ups and downs, but it is a credit to our guys to continue be positive.”

The third round has been a bit of a stumbling block for the Indians over the past two decades. The school has made it to the third round four times since 2000 and lost all four times. In 2010, PNG squared off against Manvel and fell 56-46. The Indians made it to the third round for three straight seasons from 2016-2018. PNG suffered a 52-28 loss to College Station, a 66-40 loss to College Station and a 53-14 loss to Fort Bend Marshall.

The last time PNG won a third-round match was 1999, which is when the Indians made it all the way to the State Championship game, losing to Stephenville 28-18.

The third–round win that year was a 22-6 victory over LaMarque.

This week’s opponent, the Tigers, are 11-0 on the season with playoff wins over Whitehouse (34-7) and Fulshear (42-14).

Faircloth said they compare best to the Crosby Cougars, who beat PNG 69-28 earlier in the season. The Cougars are also still in the playoffs.

“They are really well coached,” Faircloth said of Texas High School. “They are very, very athletic. They are a great team. They haven’t lost a game this year. There is a reason for that. We have our work cut out for us.”

The head coach said his team is playing with a chip on their shoulders. The Indians are the only No. 3 seed remaining in the 5A-II playoffs.

“I have felt like we can play with anybody on any Friday night,” Faircloth said. “Our kids feel the same way. Every time you advance, you get more confidence. Let’s go have a great week of practice and see what happens. They are not intimidated by anybody. They are going to go out there and play their best when their best is needed.”

PNG will host their traditional Thanksgiving Day practice Thursday morning. The practice, which starts at 8:30 a.m., is open to the community. The booster club will provide coffee and breakfast to everyone in attendance. People are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs and watch the team get ready for their playoff game.