The Orange Leader
WEST ORANGE —
There’s no doubt, each round you get deeper in the playoffs, the tougher the opponent will be.
West Orange-Stark head football coach Cornel Thompson has seen his share of big playoff battles and that will be no different Friday night at 7 p.m. when the Mustangs (12-0) take on the Lorena Leopards (10-2) in the Class 3A Region III Division II semifinals at Waller Stadium.
Coach Ray Biles’ Leopards have been nothing to sneeze at throughout their 2012 campaign.
“Those guys know what winning is all about,” said Thompson. “Last year, they went three rounds deep and here they are again. They’re a salty bunch. They have excellent athletes on both sides of the ball. At this point of the season, you’re going to be playing some darn good football teams. You just want to play well, limit those mistakes, be mentally prepared and keep moving on.”
The Leopards have put up their share of points as they nabbed a playoff berth out of the rugged District 17-3A.
The WO-S defense, one that has allowed only 42 points and 130.6 yards a game, will certainly know what to hone in on when facing the Leopards — quarterback Harris Coleman.
Coleman has been more than superb for the Leopards all season. He’s just as dangerous with his legs and has a tremendous arm.
Harris has piled up 1,823 yards and 31 touchdowns on 307 carries on the ground. The dual threat has also completed 116-of-199 passes for 1,698 yards and has 15 TD tosses to go along with seven interceptions.
“Coleman is definitely the guy that stirs the drink,” said Thompson. “He’s just a junior but plays like a senior. He’s a big-boned kid that isn’t afraid to lower his head and pick up those tough yards. He also has a nice arm.”
The Leopards will check in averaging 435.8 yards a game, 284.5 on the ground and 151.3 in the air in piling up 427 points for the season.
“They like to run multiple formations and are always looking to change things up to fool you,” said Thompson. “We’ve got to be able to manage our assignments and not have any breakdowns.”
Coleman has plenty of versatile weapons to turn to.
Running backs Chris Whiteside (94-632-5) and Duggan Burch (117-585-5) have combined for more than 1,200 yards and 10 TDs.
“Both of those guys run hard off tackle,” said Thompson. “They’re a good mix with Coleman in running the football.”
Coleman also has two go-to receivers in Brian Bays (41-648-3) and Cole Channon (26-523-8).
“The Bays kid has excellent hands and runs great routes,” said Thompson. “The other guy (Channon) is more of a deep threat.”
The Leopards two losses came at the hands of Madisonville 24-18 in non-district and Connally 29-19 in 17-3A play.
Lorena rallied from a 39-34 fourth-quarter deficit to down Fairfield 42-39 in the area round last week. They piled up 502 yards of total offense with Coleman passing for 241 yards and rushing for 189 more.
The Leopards downed Rockdale 36-22 in the bidistrict round after trailing 22-7 at intermission.
“Lorena is a team that just keeps on battling,” said Thompson. “They’ve shown that in two playoffs games, trailing then coming back to get the win. You can’t relax against those guys at all. They play excellent football and they played well in a darn good district.”
It should be a nice meeting of contrast. In two playoff wins, the Leopards have gained 947 yards of total offense. Meanwhile, the WO-S defense has allowed just 175 yards in two playoff tilts.
The Mustang offense, which has churned out 320.6 yards a game, will have a chance to move the ball against a Lorena defense that has allowed 272 points.
Quarterback Jimmy Salter has completed 112-of-192 passes for 1,525 yards and 19 TDs with just two interceptions.
Receiver J’Marcus Rhodes has 42 catches for 718 yards and 12 TDs. Bruising back Abear Simien leads the Mustang ground attack with 672 yards and six TDs on 103 carries.
The WO-S-Lorena winner will face either Navasota (12-0) or LaMarque (11-1) in the 3A Region III Finals next week.
Tickets will be on sale in the WO-S Athletic Office on the following dates and times: Thursday, Nov. 29 from 9 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and on Friday, Nov. 30 from 9 a.m.-noon.
Ticket prices for Adults are $7 and Students are $5. All tickets at the gate are $8. Directions to Waller ISD New Football Stadium - 20735 Stokes Road, Waller, TX 77484: I-10 W to Houston, Take exit 775A for Interstate 610N, Merge onto I-610W, Take exit 13B to merge onto US-290 W towards Austin, Take the exit toward FM 2920 / Waller / Tomball, Merge onto U.S. 290 Frontage Rd., Go through the light and turn right on Stokes Road. Stadium is approximately 1 mile on the left.