Another date at State: Mustangs prepping for Pleasant Grove

Published 9:15 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2017

WEST ORANGE — The sun rises in the East and sets in the West.

Which means that the West Orange-Stark Mustangs are playing for another Class 4A Division II State Championship.

Maybe that’s a stretch, but what a run it has been the last four years for the Mustang program and Orange County and Southeast Texas football fans.

The two-time defending Class 4A Division II state champion Mustangs (13-0) will look to make it three straight in their fourth straight state appearance Friday when they take on the Texarkana Pleasant Grove Hawks (15-0) at 3 p.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

WO-S is coming off a hard-fought 30-21 state semifinal victory over Wimberley last week while the Hawks hammered Graham 45-14.

“We’re so happy and thrilled for our kids and what they have accomplished,” said Mustang coach Cornel Thompson. “When the year started, not many people thought the Mustangs would still be standing at this point. But those that believed the most — the kids and the coaching staff — flat got it done. This team, it consists of a lot of overachievers and they play with a lot of heart. We’ve had some tight games of late in the playoffs and they bowed up and got after it. Hopefully they can do it one more time.”

No question, the Mustangs will be putting their state-leading 40-game winning streak on the line against a very formidable Pleasant Grove team, led by Coach Josh Gibson.

The Hawks will be making their first State Championship appearance but they will bring in what Coach Thompson calls “one salty unit.”

They have a good tradition up there even though its their first state appearance,” said Thompson. “They really can get after you. They’re big and physical and most of all, experienced. They play over 20 seniors.”

The Mustangs will face once again a Slot-T style of offense, something they’ve seen at least 27 times in the last three years. However, WO-S may have not seen one as potent as Pleasant Grove’s offensive unit, one that averages 43.6 points a game.

The Hawks pound out close to 433 yards a game, with about 310 of it coming on the ground. They had 366 yards on the ground against Graham. What makes them unique is they are not afraid to throw it, and when they do, they do it well.

Pleasant Grove’s offense is led by a sophomore in quarterback Ben Harmon. Harmon has completed 72-of-114 passes for 1,725 yards and 24 touchdowns. He doesn’t run often with 154 yards and four TDs on 61 carries but gets the ball in the right peoples’ hands.

“You can tell he’s a competitor and he reminds us a lot like Jack Dallas when he was a sophomore,” said Thompson. “There’s nothing real flashy about him, he just flat out gets the job done. He’s very accurate with the pass when he rolls out on those bootlegs and he’s not afraid to throw the deep ball either. He’s just a solid player all the way around.”

Of course, the running game is stout, sparked by two seniors and a sophomore in the backfield.

Senior tailback T,J, Cole is who Thompson calls Pleasant Grove’s “Bellcow.” Cole has rushed for 1,587 yards and 27 TDs on 205 carries and has 16 catches for 283 yards and three scores.

“He’s one we need to bottle up for sure,” said Thompson. “But you can’t solely concentrate on him, they have so many weapons. They can gut you with several different backs and receivers.”

Senior wingback Chauncey Martin has zipped for 1,009 yards and 15 TDs on 94 carries. Sophomore Bruce Garrett has zipped for 851 yards and seven TDs on 96 carries and senior fullback Josh Roberts is explosive as well.

“They like to run those guys on buck sweeps and their offensive line can explode off the ball,” said Thompson. “They have a couple 300-pound tackles that can move you and their guards pull really well. They huddle, but when they break, they like to attack the line of scrimmage fast.”

Harmon’s go-to receiver has been Carson Cox, who has hauled in 26 receptions for 775 yards and 12 TDs. Tight end Xavier Benson has 16 catches for 412 yards and five TDs.

Thompson feels the Mustangs are preparing for a much different Slot-T unit then what they’ve seen in the past.

“They have the athletes, much like Kennedale has,” said Thompson. “The major difference between the two is how well Pleasant Grove can throw out of it.”

The Mustangs defeated Kennedale in non-district play 23-20 in overtime. Kennedale (14-1) is playing Carthage (15-0) for the 4A Division I title Friday at 11 a.m.

Of course, the Hawks’ offense will face a Mustang defense like they’ve probably never seen before as well. WO-S has allowed just 9.2 points per game.

WO-S is allowing a mere 178.8 yards per game, 96.9 on the ground and 81.8 in the air. Opponents are averaging just 3.1 yards per rush and opposing quarterbacks have completed just 74-of-181 passes and 12 interceptions.

The Mustang offense had their most productive outing in the playoffs against Wimberley as they rolled up 415 total yards, 374 of it on the ground.

Senior quarterback Chaka Watson had his best game ever as a Mustang as he shredded the Texans’ defense for 236 yards on 17 carries and two TDs.

Watson has completed 79-of-140 passes for 949 yards and 10 TDs and has zipped for 813 yards and 18 TDs on 129 totes.

The Mustangs are averaging 313.3 yards a game, 226.2 on the ground.

Junior tailback Kayven Cooper has rushed for 1,124 yards and 19 TDs on 150 carries while junior back Justin Sibley has 565 yards and five TDs on 78 carries.

Receiver Jarron Morris and Blake Robinson and tight end Kaleb Ramsey have accounted for 55 catches for 631 yards and five TDs.

“Our offense really got it done last week and we’re super-proud of them,” said Thompson. “Our running game was superb and it was fun to watch Chaka get loose, he had some huge runs , which gave us a lot of momentum. We still have to iron a few things out. We weren’t too happy about some of the holding calls and lining up wrong. There is always something to work on.”

One of the big keys for the Mustangs this year, is that they have not turned the leather over. They are a plus-14 in that category.

“At this time of year, that’s so key and we’ve really protected the ball for the most part,” said Thompson. “We’re proud of the offense for that, and defensively, we’ve been able to get some key turnovers, which was big last week.”

Pleasant Grove isn’t afraid to mix it up on defense either and is allowing only 16 points per game. The most they’ve given up this year was in a 41-38 win over Gilmer and a 48-31 win against Spring Hill.

They are certainly sparked by senior linebacker Caleb Porchia. Porchia has accounted for 175 tackles, 17 of them for losses. Benson, also a senior, has 96 tackles, 13 for losses, including six sacks.

Thompson was also very impressed with freshman tackle Landon Jackson. Jackson has piled up 91 tackles, including a team-high 25 tackles for losses and a team-high 10 sacks.

“It will definitely be a battle of perhaps the two best defenses in the state,” said Thompson. “We’re certainly both here for a reason. They really fly to the ball and pursue well. The Porchia kid, he’s certainly a leader of that group. The Benson kid is a beast on both sides of the ball and that young Jackson kid is really impressive for his classification.”

The Mustangs are in their normal practice mode Monday through Wednesday and will hit the road Thursday to practice at Kennedale High School at 4 p.m. before heading towards Arlington.

“We’re trying to stay on our same basic practice schedule, we don’t like to change things up around here,” said Thompson. “We’re looking for good, crisp practices. We want the kids to avoid a lot of hoopla and just go to work. I think they understand that.”

The Mustangs are just a step away from accomplishing an amazing three-peat.

“It’s going to be a challenge for sure because Pleasant Grove has a stout group and our kids will have to rise to the occasion for sure,” said Thompson. “We’re so proud of this group and we look for them to bow up one more time and get after it.”

The Mustangs have got to be proud of all of their accomplishments thus far.

“I’m going to mention to them at practice that they have no idea what they’ve meant and the impact they’ve made on Fruit City,” said Thompson. “Many of us went through the Hurricane Harvey ordeal and many of us are still putting our lives together. From missing a couple non-district games to start the year and dealing with flooded homes has been devastating but this group has held together so strong. It’s thrilling to look up in those stands and see our fans, plus fans from around the area supporting us. We know many are still dealing with losses of their homes and belongings and to see them travel to watch us despite all of that, we’re very grateful. I just want the kids to know that they need to savor the moment and this moment will be something they’ll never forget.”




Pleasant Grove 27, Arkansas High 20

Pleasant Grove 45, Paris 13

Pleasant Grove 43, Frisco 13

Pleasant Grove 51, Liberty-Eylau 14

Pleasant Grove 63, Krum 0

Pleasant Grove 41, Gilmer 38

Pleasant Grove 48, Atlanta 17

Pleasant Grove 28, Pittsburg 10

Pleasant Grove 48, Spring Hill 31

Pleasant Grove 50, Gladewater 7

Pleasant Grove 21, Tatum 7

Pleasant Grove 56, Aubrey 28

Pleasant Grove 33, Celina 14

Pleasant Grove 55, Melissa 14

Pleasant Grove 45, Graham 14


WO-S (13-0)

WO-S 39, Bridge City 6

WO-S 61, KIPP Northeast 6

WO-S 34, Silsbee 17

WO-S 23, Kennedale 20 (OT)

WO-S 57, Hamshire-Fannett 7

WO-S 26, Hardin-Jefferson 13

WO-S 32, Liberty 0

WO-S 54, Orangefield 0

WO-S 54, Brookshire-Royal 0

WO-S 17, Mexia 3

WO-S 28, Madisonville 26

WO-S 14, Salado 0

WO-S 30, Wimberley 21