Indians contribute at all levels during quarterfinals victory over Huntsville

Published 10:56 pm Friday, December 1, 2023

HOUSTON — The Port Neches-Groves Indians topped the Huntsville Hornets, 24-14, in Friday night’s 5A-II State Quarterfinal matchup.

The Indians survived and advanced under the bright lights of Houston’s NRG stadium. The offense totaled 304 yards, and the defense came up with crucial turnovers when it mattered most.

“This was hard,” PNG head coach Jeff Joseph said after the game. “Huntsville has a really good defense and a really good defensive front. They did a good job of trying to slow down our run game, but we made the plays we had to make to win the game.”

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Huntsville received the opening kickoff, but were stopped by PNG’s defense and punted. The Indians, led by sophomore quarterback Connor Bailey, quickly set the tone on their first offensive possession. They leaned heavily on the ground game, as senior halfback Isaiah Nguyen found plenty of running room behind PNG’s dominant offensive line.

The Indians’ all-around offensive weapon, Shea Adams, then caught a pass from Bailey and took it 16 yards for the first touchdown of the game. The PAT was booted through the uprights, and Port Neches-Groves claimed an early 7-0 lead with just under four minutes to go in the opening quarter.

The purple-and-white defense forced a fast three-and-out after a third-down sack by Andres Fuentes. After regaining possession, the Indians strung together a 12-play drive that ended in a 39-yard field goal by Giovanni Oceguera.

Despite a pair of big gains by the Hornets’ offense, PNG continued building momentum as the defense forced another punt.

The offense took over with five minutes left before halftime, but there was no long march downfield on this drive. Instead, the Indians did their damage via the big play — receiver London Nunley created separation from his defender and Bailey hit him in stride for a 56-yard touchdown pass, which gave his team a 17-0 lead.

“Connor (Bailey) has been steady for us the whole year,” Joseph said. “He’s a really good football player. He’s got a ton of poise, a ton of confidence and believes in himself.”

Port Neches Groves’ defense put together an impressive first half. However, the squad finally began to crack as Huntsville hung its first points on the scoreboard just before halftime. Hornets quarterback Austin Taylor completed a 31-yard touchdown pass to Trae’Shawn Brown, but the ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed.

PNG headed into the locker room at halftime with a 17-6 lead. In the first half, the Indians offense tallied 206 yards to the Hornets’ 169, with 12 first downs compared to their opponents’ nine.

The Indians came out of the gate swinging in the second half. They took the kickoff to their own 37 and began the drive with great field position. PNG’s play-caller dialed up a beautiful fake pitch, which Adams executed to perfection for a gain of 32. Nguyen finished the drive with a seven-yard rush across the goal line to push further ahead, 24-6.

A Huntsville offense that struggled in the first half began to move the chains in the third quarter. The Hornets worked their way inside PNG’s 35-yard line before facing fourth-and-four. In what can only be described as a gutsy decision, the Hornets faked a field goal, threw the football and picked up a first down by a matter of inches.

Several plays later, Taylor scrambled for a one-yard touchdown. He tossed a two-point conversion to Melton Green III, bringing Huntsville within two scores, 24-14.

While PNG moved the ball with minimal resistance in the first three quarters, the offense looked to have lost some steam in the final 12 minutes. The last four drives of the night all ended in a punt — however, the Indians defense caught fire at the perfect time.

With six minutes to go, PNG’s Mason Wuenschel intercepted a pass on fourth down to end a drive that the Hornets desperately needed to stay in the game. The Indians came up with another crucial turnover three minutes later when senior defensive back William Poole picked off an errant throw to secure the win.

Port Neches-Groves finished the game with 304 total yards of offense — 146 on the ground and 158 through the air. The defense allowed just 253.

The Indians move on to their second-straight 5A-II State Semifinals, which will be a rematch with a familiar opponent. They will face Liberty Hill (10-4 overall) next week.

It was 2022, when the Indians cruised to a 42-14 win over Liberty Hill in a Class 5A-Division II state semifinal game at Legacy Stadium.

— Written by Keagan Smith