The Orange Leader
LITTLE CYPRESS —
Old Orange County rivals will hook up again in non-district play this year as the Little Cypress-Mauriceville Battlin’ Bears welcome in the West Orange-Stark Mustangs to kickoff the 2013 campaign.
The Mustangs are on a quest this season to win District 21-3A for the ninth time in 10 years.
Coach Cornel Thompson and Co. are depending on some young players to step up as the Mustangs have just two starters back on a defense that posted nine shutouts on its way to a 13-1 record and a trip to the 3A Division II Region III Finals.
The Battlin’ Bears are seeking their first playoff trip since 1997.
Fifth-year head coach Randy Crouch welcomes back six starters on each side of the ball off a unit that finished 4-6 last season and barely missed the postseason.
The Bears will turn to the return of quarterback Caleb Harley to help lead the way after the graduation of running back Alex Sezer.
LC-M will have a tough time replacing Sezer’s 1,308 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground.
Harley stepped in and played well in his first year as a starter.
Harley is the leading returning passer in 20-4A and was Co-Newcomer of the Year on the All-Orange Leader Team.
He completed 107-of-198 passes for 1,594 yards and 14 TDs to go along with 13 interceptions. He definitely has a go-to receiver in the form of Dalton Doyle, who snared 41 receptions for 666 yards and eight TDs.
Brandon Tolliver and Robert Green have ran well at running back in LC-M’s two scrimmages.
The Bears should receive excellent protection from a offensive line that features returning all-district selection Dustin Daigle, Ethan Reed, Trevor Hulsey and Marvis Brown.
Defensively, the Bears still look to improve after allowing 322.8 yards a game, 227.2 of it coming via the ground.
Linebackers Brady Lyons and Troy Angelo bring back nice experience as well as secondary players Teondre Gant and Jake Sonnier.
WO-S’ two starters back on defense were outstanding last year with both free safety Deionte Thompson and noseguard Octavious Crosson both making all-district.
Thompson, the All-Orange Leader Team’s Co-Newcomer of the Years was splendid last season as a sophomore.
Thompson tied teammate J’Marcus Rhodes for a team-high six interceptions. Two of his picks went back for TDs including a 73-yarder against Lorena in the postseason, which gave the Mustangs momentum in the regional semifinals. He also finished with 55 tackles, four of them for losses.
Crosson is also ready for a big junior year after notching 52 tackles. The Mustangs will be looking for a couple returning letter winners and players from last year’s JV unit to step up and make big plays.
Johnny Shaw, an All-District performer as a sophomore at Center last season, should fit in heavily in the mix.
Offensively, the Mustangs will look to regroup after losing most of their skill people.
They lose quarterback Jimmy Salter, who started for nearly three seasons and played in 10 playoff games as he set every WO-S passing record including yards (4,722) and touchdown passes (50). They also lost top receiver Rhodes (52-846-13) and top rusher Abear Simien (128-784-6).
Junior Chase Rutledge will step in at quarterback with Dillon Sterling-Cole also seeing action.
Rutledge played well at QB in the Wildcat Formation last year and has shown a good arm in scrimmages, connecting with receivers on several long scoring plays.
Running back Chris James could be explosive at tailback.
James transferred from Beaumont Ozen last season and played well when he became eligible in the playoffs.
The Mustang coaching staff will be hoping that James can show how his speed once he gets into the secondary. James was a leg on both the 400 and 800-meter WO-S relay teams that earned silver medals at the UIL Class 3A State Track & Field Championships in May.
The Mustangs took down the Bears 18-0 in a defensive battle at Hooks Stadium.
WO-S limited the Bears to just 121 total yards on its way to its first of nine shutouts.
The Bears, who will be home for four straight games to start the season, will host Silsbee next week while WO-S heads to Port Neches-Groves.