Indians coaches talk about amazing fan support, what made season special

Published 12:20 am Tuesday, December 19, 2023

PORT NECHES — In 1999, Port Neches-Groves High played against Stephenville for the state title.

Matt McDaniel was a student-athlete for Katy, which was competing in the 6A bracket that same year. He recalls seeing the sea of purple in the stadium and recognizing all the support the PNG had.

Now, as the defensive coordinator for the Indians, he gets to bask in it along with his players, fellow coaches and the PNG community as they celebrate the program’s first state title in nearly half a century.

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“I was a move-up kid and dressed out for that game with Katy High School,” McDaniel remembers. “I remember the end of that PNG game and seeing all of the people in the stands and that it was a big crowd. I couldn’t tell you where Port Neches-Groves was on the map, but I remember thinking that it was pretty cool.

“I know (this year) when we were warming up for Liberty Hill and the line was still wrapped around the stadium, that was like ‘Whoa.’ Our playoff crowds were pretty special. The support they give matters to our kids. They feel that energy and support.”

Southeast Texas celebrated PNG’s 20-17 win over South Oak Cliff with a parade and pep rally Monday night.

Head Coach Jeff Joseph celebrated on the field with his coaches and players after the game, but said the moment was almost too surreal to take in.

“It is hard to grasp the big picture in that moment,” he said. “We are a full two days away from it and it is still hard to grasp. It is an unbelievable thing and you are still thinking ,‘I can’t believe we got that done.’ We are still on cloud nine and an emotional high.”

Joseph said he and the staff were watching film for the playoffs when he realized his team had a decent shot at making another run.

“We looked at our bracket and knew who we were playing in the first round,” he said. “We had video of Lake Creek, too and knew that was who we would likely play in the third round if we were able to win a couple. I told them then, that I didn’t believe we would go on the field and not have a chance to play with any of these teams. You never know because it comes down to taking care of the football, but I knew we had a chance if we took care of business. I knew it was going to be a week-to-week fight. I don’t think we looked ahead enough to think about (a state title). I think we were more focused on the week-to-week.”

While much has rightfully been made of the offense, which led the way with a dominating ground attack and timely plays from two quarterbacks, the PNG defensive put up one of the most dominate performances the program has ever seen.

McDaniel admitted he is overly critical of his unit, always looking for ways to improve and not taking enough time to focus on the positives. He said the assistant coaches do a phenomenal job of balancing his critiques with pats on the back.

With the season over, the defensive coordinator said he can finally look at the unit as a whole and call them elite.

“I think I can say that now,” he said laughing. “You look at some of these guys we had that had been solid all year. A guy like Andres Fuentes, who had three sacks in the game. He started every game for us. He didn’t have his first sack until the playoffs. He had three sacks in the state championship game and two on the last drive. We had a bunch of guys like that. Max Scroggs, Reid Richard and Kameron Droddy — those guys were so fun to coach. You talk about buying in, that was a fun group and a very good defense.”

McDaniel is enjoying the title but admitted he has already started looking ahead.

“I’ll get through the parade and celebration, and (Tuesday), I’ll start looking at how we are going to piece together some of this stuff. I am going to savor this one. This has a pretty special place in my heart.”

Joseph also said he will never forget this group.

“I will always remember these first two years,” he said. “This place is special and unique. The passion shows up every week. The passion shows up in our kids every week. That is just who they are every day in practice. That is why they were able to get it done. They will always be special to me and it is not something I will ever forget.”