Mustangs battle Bears in 2023 Orange Bowl

Published 10:49 pm Friday, September 1, 2023

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The West Orange-Stark Mustangs improved to 2-0 following Friday night’s 33-6 win over the Little Cypress-Mauriceville Bears in the annual Orange Bowl, held at Dan R. Hooks Stadium in West Orange.

“This is a local rivalry with a lot of time and a lot of people invested in it,” Mustangs head coach Hiawatha Hickman said following the game. “It’s always good to come out on top.”

It was a strong night on the ground for the Mustangs. The team racked more than 300 rushing yards, punishing a soft LC-M front seven throughout the contest.

Junior RB/LB Tahj Amerson was the night’s star, toting the ball 12 times for 133 yards and four touchdowns.

While the Mustangs offense got off to a slow start last week, they came out of the gate swinging in the Orange Bowl. Senior Jalen Gilmore made a statement with an 11-yard touchdown rush on the opening drive.

LC-M halfback Jonah Fuller fumbled on the Bears’ fourth play from scrimmage. It was recovered by Amerson at the 50-yard line. Six plays later, Amerson took a direct snap out of the wildcat formation and found the end zone for a six-yard touchdown.

Junior RB/LB Tahj Amerson receives congratulations in the post-game huddle following Friday’s game. (Keagan Smith/The Leader)

Trailing 14-0 near the end of the first quarter, the Bears needed a score to keep the game from getting out of hand early. Senior quarterback Dylan Payne led a drive downfield before tossing a 22-yard touchdown pass to Fuller.

The Bears went for two, but Payne was stopped at the goal line, leaving LC-M trailing 14-6.

West Orange-Stark fired back with another touchdown of its own. Quarterback Marcus Turner Jr. took the offense 71 yards to the goal line, where Amerson again took a wildcat snap across for the score. At half, the Mustangs held a comfortable 21-6 lead.

Amerson’s career night continued in the third quarter when he took a handoff 77 yards for his third touchdown of the game. Following a missed PAT, the ‘Stangs pushed the lead to 27-6.

“We’ve got a multitude of running backs, but tonight was just kind of Tahj’s night,” Hickman said. “We put him in the goal line set to take a little bit of stress off Marcus, so he was able to get in on a heavy set and score a couple of times before breaking the long one.”

The defining moment of the game for the Bears came at the start of the fourth quarter. After the offense stalled out, Luke McDow recovered a Mustangs fumble. Little Cypress-Mauriceville’s offense moved the chains and appeared to be on the cusp of a much-needed score after pushing the ball into the red zone.

However, the Bears were stymied on fourth-and-short when a Mustangs defender flew into the backfield and tackled Payne for a loss to end the drive. It was indicative of how West Orange-Stark’s renowned defense got the better of the Bears all night.

WO-S added six more points to the scoreboard for good measure near the end of the fourth. Amerson lined up in the wildcat again and bounced the run outside for a 13-yard touchdown, putting the finishing touches on the 33-6 win.

The Mustangs now sit 2-0 in non-district play. They’ll hit the road and face the Port Neches-Groves Indians next week.

“I was just telling the kids we’ve got to go and play a really good team next week,” Hickman said. “It’ll be a tough challenge to go into the Reservation and try to get a win.”

Little Cypress-Mauriceville falls to 1-1 in the new year ahead of next week’s home matchup with the 2-0 Bridge City Cardinals.

— Written by Keagan Smith