(Orange, Texas)

September 7, 2013

Indians fend off Mustangs, 37-34

Gerry Dickert
The Orange Leader

PORT NECHES, Texas — On a night when seemingly anything could happen, the seemingly unthinkable did.

The Port Neches-Groves Indians defeated the state-ranked West Orange-Stark Mustangs 37-34. The last time the Tribe tamed the Ponies, most of the kids on the field had not yet even been born.

In a game that saw multiple turnovers, well over 200 yards of combined penalty yards, and several acrobatic, circus-style plays, the Indians held on for the win and a 2-0 start to the 2013 season. The win over the Mustangs, who are ranked No. 10 in Class 3A, is the first over WO-S for PN-G since the 1996 season when the Indians claimed an uncharacteristic blowout, 35-7.

The Indians, who are now 2-0 after this past week’s shellacking of Silsbee, proved they are for real as they rolled against the typically staunch Mustangs defense, while also limiting WO-S offensively for most of the game.

At times, the Indians appeared in full control of Friday night’s game at the Reservation but true to Mustang style, WO-S managed a comeback in the waning moments of the contest.

The Indians held a 23-14 lead over the Mustangs heading into the second half and padded that with a TD early in the third quarter as junior running back Brant Halfin sprinted 40 yards for the score and a 30-14 PN-G advantage.

WO-S, now 1-1, answered in quick fashion, going 73 yards in three plays, aided by a 15-yard penalty, as Tre Spencer was the recipient of a tipped pass from Mustang QB Dillon Sterling-Cole. Spencer found himself with the ball and a wide-open field of grass as he netted 56 yards and the score to close the gap to 30-21 with 10:17 left in the quarter.

PN-G would fumble on its next possession and Mustang Elijah Teel would pick up the ball for a 35-yard TD recovery. But a penalty flag brought the ball back, the second touchdown of the night negated by a yellow hankie, and the Mustangs were eventually forced to punt.

PN-G fumbled again two plays into its next possession but again, WO-S was unable to convert on the freebie.

The Indians put together a legitimate drive on their next possession, moving 85 yards in eight plays, capped by a 43-yard TD pass from Ky Walker to senior fullback Reece Wardlow for a 37-21 lead with 1:37 left in the third.

The Mustangs, certainly under the heat of the ticking clock, worked their next possession down the field and into the fourth quarter where they would eventually pick their way into the end zone on a 1-yard run by Sterling-Cole. The score stood at 37-27 in favor of the Indians and it seemed logical to go for two points to pull the game to within one score. Inexplicably, the Mustangs kicked the extra point, leaving them trailing 37-28 and nine points behind.

The Mustangs defense stiffened and eventually, WO-S found the end zone again when Sterling-Cole crossed from 7 yards out after orchestrating a masterful drive that went 83 yards in eight plays. A missed kick left the Ponies trailing 37-34 with 2:20 left in the game.

The Indians were forced to punt on its next possession and the Mustangs had the makings of a comeback with 1:11 left in the game.

The Ponies were forced to start from their own one after a fantastic pooch-punt by the Indians. A penalty and back-to-back double-digit pass completions by Sterling-Cole started the Mustangs down the field.

In the end, the clock undid the Mustangs’ hopes of a recovery. With Sterling-Cole tackled in the field of play with no timeouts remaining and the Mustangs unable to get lined up to spike the ball, the final second fell off the clock and the Indians sprinted from the field with the win.

The first half was a woeful tale of mistakes and missed opportunities for the Mustangs as they saw two drives inside the PN-G 10-yard line end thanks to turnovers.

On the opening drive of the game, the Mustangs moved down to the Indians 11, thanks in great part to a 44-yard run by Chris James. Quarterback Chase Rutledge tossed an interception to end the threat as PN-G’s Jeremiah Rose hauled in the aerial theft.

Several punts later by both teams, West Orange-Stark had another chance to put the first points on the board, moving to the PN-G 19 on a pass from Rutledge to Chris Horn. But at the end of that run, Horn coughed up the ball and PN-G’s Corbin Coy found the loose ball.

PN-G took that free possession and started moving against the traditionally strong Mustang defense. Walker hurled the ball downfield and Deionte’ Thompson found the interception and went 41 yards for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead at the 1:27 mark of the first quarter.

Before the Mustangs could enjoy their newfound advantage, the Indians came up with a one-play explosion that sent Brant Halfin 78 yards for a score, knotting the game at 7-7 with 1:11 left in the quarter.

It appeared that the Mustangs would set out on their next drive to get something done but flags and missed offensive opportunities stalled WO-S, forcing a punt.

PN-G managed a couple of incomplete passes and a few short-yardage runs to get to their own 35. Then Walker completed a pass to Kaleb Sparks for 64 down to the WO-S 1 yard line. From there Halfin bulled his way into the end zone for a 14-7 PN-G lead with 5:45 left in the half.

After an unsuccessful Mustangs drive, the Indians took the ball but, likewise, were forced to punt. The ball was salvaged at the 1 yard line, forcing the Mustangs to take over the ball with their heels in their own end zone.

Two plays later, junior linebacker Michael Hughes tackled the Mustangs quarterback in the end zone for the safety and a 16-7 PN-G lead.

PN-G immediately got the ball back and in under a minute, the Indians were in the end zone again as Walker hit Jeremiah Rose for 45 yards and the score. Rose, who was the premier receiver coming into Friday night’s game, had seldom touched the ball until this reception. He juked several Mustang defenders then dove into the end zone for the spectacular score and a 23-7 PN-G lead.

On its next possession, WO-S fumbled and PN-G reciprocated with an interception on Walker’s first attempt.

The Mustangs got back on the scoreboard again when, with their backs to their own goal post, James sprinted 89 yards for the touchdown, pulling WO-S to within 23-14 with 14 seconds left in the half.

The Indians nearly wound up with two 200-yard performers with Walker completing 13 of 28 attempts for 242 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. Kaleb Sparks was Walker’s top target, catching seven for 123 yards, while Rose finished with two catches for 73. Halfin ran the ball 27 times for 197 yards and three TDs.

The Mustangs were led by Sterling-Cole, who did not play the first quarter, as he hit 11 of 24 passing for 207 yards, running for 17 more yards and two TDs. James was the top rusher for the Mustangs with 153 yards on 10 carries.