Hawks end great WO-S run
By Van Wade
The Orange Leader
ARLINGTON – After 40 amazing wins in a row, the West Orange-Stark Mustangs saw their streak come to an end Friday in the Class 4A Division II State Championship Game, falling to the Pleasant Grove Hawks 41-21 at AT&T Stadium.
It marked the fourth straight championship game for the Mustangs (13-1), who were looking for their third straight title.
However, the Hawks (16-0) made too many big plays, especially with their passing game, to turn back WO-S.
It was the first State Championship appearance in Pleasant Grove history while the Mustangs have visited the biggest stage eight times now.
“We had an outstanding year and you can’t take that away from the kids,” said Mustang head coach Cornel Thompson. “When practice started in August, very few people thought we had a chance to be back here, and here we were, almost at the pinnacle. We replaced 21 seniors from last year’s unit that saw 13 of them sign to play college ball. We basically had about 18 new starters. But you know who believed – the kids and the coaching staff – that’s who. What a wonderful bunch of kids. They took good old Orange, Texas for another great ride and that’s something they will always be remembered for.”
The Hawks outgained the Mustangs 359-283 but it wasn’t their Wing-T running game that did it.
Pleasant Grove sophomore quarterback Ben Harmon completed 9-of-14 passes for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Fullback TJ Cole hauled in three catches for 107 yards and two TDs and rushed for 81 yards and a TD on 22 carries. Hawks tight end Xavier Benson hauled in four catches for 114 yards with each catch being in a key moment.
“What an awesome feeling all the way around,” said Pleasant Grove coach Josh Gibson. “We are a Wing-T team that can throw it, and you don’t hear that very often. Ben (Harmon) is accurate when he does throw it and when you have players like Cole and Benson, freakish athletes, that’s even better.”
Pleasant Grove managed just 111 yards on 41 carries but loved its passing game, which paved the way.
“They hit us with some big passing plays, especially in the first half,” said Thompson. “We stuffed their running game well and we figured they would have to pass it to beat us and they did. They capitalized on a few mistakes by us defensively for some big ones. Give them credit, Pleasant Grove is an excellent coached football team. Coach Gibson is a bright young coach with a tremendous future. It just wasn’t in the cards for us today but the kids played hard.”
Mustang quarterback Chaka Watson had a productive game throwing the ball after WO-S could muster just 43 rushing yards on 23 carries.
Watson completed 18-of-31 passes for 240 yards and a pair of scores. He was picked off three times, two of them coming late in the fourth quarter as he was trying to rally the team back.
Jarron Morris led WO-S with three catches for 85 yards. Kayven Cooper led the ground game with 25 yards on five carries. Watson, who had 236 yards on the ground in the 30-21 semifinals win against Wimberley, was held to nine yards on 13 carries.
“They stuffed our running game, so went to our passing game and Chaka was really flinging it well,” said Thompson. “He made some really tough throws late to get us back in it. One thing about all of our kids, they competed for the entire 48 minutes.”
The Mustangs fought hard, trailing by as much as 28-6 with 10 minutes remaining, but rallied to get to within 28-21 with 4:31 remaining.
“We knew the Mustangs were not going to just fade away,” said Gibson. “You’re talking about a program that has been a powerhouse for well over 30 years now. I mean, they’ve been to four straight State Championship Games and here we were in our first. Cornel (Thompson) and those guys over there, we have tremendous respect for all of them. To be able to defeat a program that had won 40 straight games, that does make it a little sweeter because we know we’ve beaten the best.”
On the second play from scrimmage in the second half, Watson completed a screen pass to back Cooper, who turned it into what looked to be a 63-yard touchdown down the left sideline. However, the Mustangs were called for holding and it came back to the WO-S 30. The Mustangs recovered to move the ball all the way to the Hawks 30 10 plays later but the Pleasant Grove defense forced a Watson incompletion on fourth-and-4 from the Hawks 30.
The Hawks put together a nine-play, 70-yard drive that produced a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that could have sank the sails of the proud Mustangs.
The biggest play came when Harmon found Benson for a 38-yard strike down the left side that went all the way to the Mustang 25. Six grinding plays later, Hawk back Bruce Garrett shot off the left side for a four-yard touchdown scamper to increase the Pleasant Grove lead to 28-6 with 10:02 remaining.
The Mustangs got off the deck fast and bounced back with a four-play, 66-yard touchdown drive capped off by a superb over-the-top 44-yard touchdown pass over the middle from Watson to Morris. The two connected again on the two-point conversion pass to trim it to 28-14 with 8:25 remaining.
WO-S kept scrapping. After the defense held Pleasant Grove to a quick three-and-out, Watson led a six-play, 61-yard drive that was capped off with a three-yard Watson TD pass to Blake Robinson to tri it to 28-21 with 4:35 remaining. Watson got the drive started when he found Morris for a 32-yard dart to the Hawks 29. The other big play came on a perfectly executed 22-yard screen pass from Watson to Cooper that got to the 8.
The Hawks drove from their own 25 all the way down to the Mustang 23 with a big 29-pass from Harmon to Benson being the big play. But Pleasant Grove kicker Dillon Williams missed a 39-yard field goal attempt with 0:28 left.
However, Benson would put an exclamation point on the Hawks win when he stepped in front of a Watson pass and took it 22 yards for a score with 0:15 left.
Pleasant Grove defensive back Aaron Harmon finished it off with a 44-yard interception return for a score when time expired.
The Hawks controlled the first half with pinpoint passing from Harmon and the legs of Cole to take a 21-6 lead at intermission.
Pleasant Grove outgained the Mustangs 221-116 in the first 24 minutes as Cole accounted for all three touchdowns, two off passes from Harmon.
Harmon completed 6-of-8 passes for 169 yards in the half with Cole hauling in three of them for 107 yards and two scores. Cole also rushed for 53 yards and a TD on 10 carries. The Hawks just had 52 rushing yards on 22 carries out of their Slot-T in the half as their passing game carried them.
For the Mustangs, Watson completed 8-of-16 passes for 93 yards and rushed for 11 yards on five totes. Receiver Deiondr’e Hawthorne had two catches for 29 yards while receiver Blake Robinson had two grabs for 21 yards. The Mustangs only had 23 yards on 11 rushes.
The Hawks wasted little time getting on the scoreboard when Harmon found a streaking Cole all alone over the middle and Cole did the rest, sprinting 75 yards untouched for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Kicker Dillon Williams booted the extra-point as the Hawks snared a 7-0 lead with 11:50 left in the first quarter.
The Mustangs would counter later in the first quarter behind the arm of Watson, who led a seven-play, 47-yard touchdown drive.
On the first play, Watson floated a nice pass to tight end Jaylon Mims over the middle for a 24-yard gain to the Hawk 23. Watson hit back Justin Sibley with a six-yard pass that would set up fourth-and-4 from the 17. The Mustangs elected to go for it and it paid off when Watson hit Blake Robinson on a quick pass to the left and Robinson took it all the way down to the 3. On second down, Kayven Cooper did the honors, scoring off left tackle from three yards out. Kicker Chad Dallas was wide right on the extra-point attempt as the Mustangs pulled to within 7-6 with 5:22 left in the first quarter. Watson completed 3-of-5 passes for 44 yards on the march.
The Hawks retaliated on the next series as Harmon engineered a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive with his arm.
On third-and-9 from the Hawk 40, Harmon found tight end Xavier Benson for nine yards and a first down. He then connected with receiver Carson Cox for a 17-yard strike to the Mustang 34.
Once again it was the Harmon to Cole connection that hit paydirt again when Harmon found Cole streaking wide-open again across the middle for a 34-yard untouched touchdown to push the Hawks’ lead up to 14-6 with 0:44 in the first quarter.
Watson was picked off by Pleasant Grove defensive back Cameron Wells at the Hawks 40 with 8:24 in the half but the Mustang defense forced a quick three-and-out.
Jarron Morris brought a punt back 25 yards to set the Mustangs up at the Hawks 47 with 7:27 in the half. The Mustang drive stalled. WO-S punter Chad Dallas teamed up with Kayven Cooper on what looked to be a 33-yard fake punt completion that would have kept the drive alive but the Mustangs were called for five men in the backfield and WO-S had to go ahead and punt with 6:54 in the half.
Cole and the Hawks would find their way to the end zone late in the half as they maneuvered 52 yards in six plays.
Cole broke loose on a 11-yard run to the Mustang 41. On second-and-15, Harmon hit tight end Benson again along the left side. Benson broke a WO-S tackle and bruised his way all the way down to the Mustang 9 for a 37-yard gain. Two plays later Cole punched in his third touchdown as he bolted around the right side for a six-yard touchdown sweep, pushing the Pleasant Grove edge to 21-6 with 1:04 in the half.
The Hawks had the ball 14 minutes and seven seconds of the first half while the Mustangs had it for 9:53.
Pleasant Grove 41
WO-S 6 0 0 15— 21
PG 14 7 0 20 —41
Pleasant Grove: TJ Cole 75 pass from Ben Harmon. Dillon Williams kick.
WO-S: Kayven Cooper 3 run. Kick failed.
Pleasant Grove: Cole 34 pass from Harmon. Williams kick.
Pleasant Grove: Cole 6 run. Williams kick.
Pleasant Grove: Bruce Garrett 4 run. Williams kick.
WO-S: Jarron Morris 44 pass from Chaka Watson. Morris pass from Watson.
WO-S: Blake Robinson 3 pass from Watson. Chad Dallas kick.
Pleasant Grove: Xavier Benson 21 interception return. Williams kick.
Pleasant Grove: Aaron Harmon 44 interception return.
First downs 11 13
Rushes-yards 23-43 41-111
Passing 240 248
Total yards 283 359
Comp-Att-Int 18-32-3 9-14-0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-0
Penalties-yards 4-32 4-22
Rushing: WO-S, Kayven Cooper 5-25, Chaka Watson 13-9, Mark Thibodeaux 1-6, Justin Sibley 3-4, Jarron Morris 1-(-1); Pleasant Grove, TJ Cole 22-81, Chauncey Martin 5-25, Bruce Garrett 8-15, Josh Roberts 2-6, Ben Harmon 1-(-13)
Passing: WO-S, Chaka Watson 18-31-3 240, Jarron Morris 0-1-0 0; Pleasant Grove, Ben Harmon 09-14-0 248
Receiving: WO-S, Jarron Morris 3-85, Blake Robinson 3-24, Deiondr’e Hawthorne 2-29, Dashawn Holt 2-25, Kayven Cooper 2-25, Mark Thibodaux 2-14, Justin Sibley 2-10, Jaylon Mims 1-24, Renaldo Rose 1-4; Pleasant Grove, Xavier Benson 4-114, TJ Cole 3-107, Carson Cox 2-27.