WEST ORANGE —
For the second straight season, the West Orange-Stark Mustangs will be gearing up for the Cleveland Indians in the Class 3A Region III Division II bidistrict playoffs.
The Mustangs are certainly hoping that the results will be the same.
The Mustangs (10-0) ripped the Indians (7-3) 58-14 at Baytown Stallworth Stadium in 2011, scoring 35 unanswered points in the second half.
The two teams will battle it out Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Thomas Educational Center in Beaumont.
“I know one thing, that’s not the same type of Cleveland team we played last year,” said Mustang coach Cornel Thompson. “Their offense is more versatile and their defense flies to the ball much better then they did a year ago. We’re going to have to step up to the challenge because a new season begins Friday night.”
There is no doubt that the fourth-ranked Mustangs are rolling in with some momentum after downing Silsbee 26-12 last week to capture the outright District 21-3A title.
The Indians, meanwhile, had to sweat it out last week just to make the postseason, defeating Shepherd 40-34.
WO-S has put together a spectacular season on the defensive side of the ball, one of its best ever.
The “Chain Gang” has recorded an amazing seven shutouts and have allowed just 32 points all season long, limiting opponents to a mere 139.2 yards a game.
The Indians, meanwhile, will check in averaging 28.9 points a game.
Quarterback Chris Taylor leads the attack. He’s explosive on the ground and throws an excellent deep ball. He has passed for a little more than 1,000 yards and has rushed for more than 700 yards and 15 TDs.
“The Taylor kid is a strong-armed lefty that throws a good deep ball and he can run on you on the edge, much like Silsbee’s quarterback (Patrick Reed),” said Thompson. “They have a big offensive line. Really, their whole team reminds us a lot of Silsbee. They have a lot of size on both sides of the ball and excellent skill people.”
Tailback Brandon Foster leads the ground game with over 800 yards and 12 TDs. Taylor’s favorite receivers have been Trent Willis and Deion Baldwin.
“They don’t have one of those 1,000-yard backs like they did last year but Taylor and Foster can cut you up if you’re not careful,” said Thompson. “We’ve got to go out there and play disciplined, sound football and now blow any assignments. We’ve done well with that all year and we can’t get lax or lazy now.”
Offensively, the Mustangs have made tremendous progress in recent weeks, due in part to a much-improved offensive line. They grinded it out for 262 yards on the ground last week to wear Silsbee down.
In the win over Cleveland last year, the Mustangs piled up 497 total yards, 351 of it on the ground.
Tailback Abear Simien tore through Silsbee’s defense for 122 yards and a pair of scores last week and now has 572 yards and six TDs on 85 carries. Simien rushed for 92 yards and two TDs on 15 carries in the win over Cleveland last year.
“I’m so dang proud of the way our kids up front have played the last few weeks, especially last week,” said Thompson. “We’ve got to be more patient with it against Cleveland this year though. They’ve improved so much defensively. They’re huge up front and they’ve moved several defensive backs up to linebacker this year and they fly around. They returned eight starters on defense and they’ve vastly improved in that area.”
Mustang senior quarterback and all-time leading passer Jimmy Salter has completed 91-of-165 passes for 1,231 yards and 14 TDs with just one pick. He’s also rushed for 357 yards and nine TDs on 85 totes.
The Mustangs have a stable of receivers to go to, including senior standout J’Marcus Rhodes, who has 34 catches for 541 yards and eight TDs.
The Indian defense has allowed 179 points. They gave up 37 points apiece to both Coldspring and Huffman in losses in District 22-3A play.
“The big key for us is to not turn the ball over,” said Thompson. “We’ve been very good at not doing that over the course of the season. Last week we had two of them and both led to touchdowns. You have to avoid those type of things at this level. Also, this time of year, you simply can’t look ahead. You’ve got to focus on the opponent that’s straight in front of your face. If you start worrying about next week, you may not even have to worry about tomorrow. I think our kids are tuned in and ready to go. It’s playoff football and you can’t beat that.”
The WO-S-Cleveland winner will face either West Columbia or Houston Kashmere in the area round next week.