RIVALRY RENEWED — PNG, Memorial square off in matchup of top-10 teams

Published 12:18 am Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Last year’s contest between the Memorial Titans and Port Neches-Groves Indians was not indicative of how the season eventually unfolded.

In the opening game between the two powerhouse programs, the Titans walked away with a dominating 50-15 win.

While the game seemed to be a launching point for Memorial, which went on to win it’s next 11-out-of-12 contests all the way to the third round of the playoffs, PNG and then-first-year head coach Jeff Joseph learned from the blowout and made it all the way to the 5A Division II State Championship game.

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This year will be different, if for no other reason, both teams graduated most of last year’s starting lineups. Both teams enter the contest ranked top-10 in the state in their respective classes.

Memorial is ranked 8th in 5A Division I, while PNG 6th in 5A Division II.

But there will be some familiar faces on the field who made an impact on last year’s contest between the squads.

PNG’s Roy Stanley, No. 3, Nick Gardinaer, No. 6, and Torryan Hinton, No. 2, bring down Memorial receiver Najiya Green during a 2022 battle between Memorial and Port Neches-Groves. (Chris Moore/The News)

Memorial junior running back Ja’Coryn Baker is reprising his role in the backfield for the Titans. He led all rushers in last year’s contest with 167 yards on 14 carries while picking up a pair of touchdowns.

PNG’s Shea Adams made a 56-yard reception in last year’s game. He was one of the Indians’ top pass catchers last season, but the utility player is the starting quarterback this year.

“You know what you are going to get out of them,” Memorial head coach Brian Morgan said of PNG. “They play really hard and confident, because they believe. It got them a long way. All of those kids who are playing this year didn’t play last year, but they were there for it. That will be a test for us. They have young kids just like we do that are unproven. We will see what happens on Friday night.”

While the games count on the team’s official record, the non-district contests have no bearing on playoff seeding or even making the postseason.

Teams use the games to improve and prepare for district play, which starts Sept. 15 for the Titans and Sept. 22 for PNG.

This year’s game will be played at Memorial Stadium after playing at PNG last season. Morgan said the experience was critical to the 2022 team’s success but said he is glad to have the game at home this week.

“I’d much rather never play over there,” Morgan said laughing. “It is going to be a great atmosphere. When you have two teams that close together, the players know each other. The community knows each other and works with each other. It is going to be a great atmosphere, whether it is at their place or our place.”

On the PNG side, defensive coordinator Matt McDaniel is eager to see how his team reacts to the Titans’ speed.

“It hard to replicate speed, and they have plenty of it,” he said. “It is good for our guys early to see the speed and physicality of Memorial. We get to see the athletes they put on the field. That is the biggest benefit for us, but it is also the biggest challenge.”

McDaniel said last year’s contest was not the way PNG wanted to start the season but stopped short of calling this week’s matchup a “revenge game.”

“That game last year was a wakeup call for us,” he said. “It was a good barometer for where we were, and we had a long way to go. Credit to our kids last year. They buckled down and got to work and we got better every week.”

Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.