Port Neches-Groves tops Liberty Hill, advances to state championship

Published 10:54 pm Friday, December 8, 2023

CYPRESS — Port Neches-Groves faced Liberty Hill for the second straight year in the Class 5A-Division II state semifinals and for the second straight year it was the Indians who punched their ticket to the state championship game.

The Indians used a balanced offensive attack to turn aside the Panthers for the second straight year Friday night at Cy-Fair FCU Stadium.

That will set up a rematch against South Oak Cliff for the state championship at 11 a.m. Dec. 16 from AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

A massive second half by Dallas South Oak Cliff on Dec. 16, 2022, was too much for PNG to overcome as the Bears nabbed their second consecutive Class 5A Division II state title with a 34-24 victory over the Indians at AT&T Stadium.

That might not be the case this year as PNG improved to 14-1 and extended its winning streak to 14 straight. This will be the Indians second straight trip to the state championship. PNG will be looking to capture its first title since 1977.

The one-two punch of running backs Blair Chatagnier and Isaiah Nguyen was too much for the Panthers. Chatagnier rushed for 132 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. Nguyen carried the ball 17 times for 105 yards and one touchdown.

Connor Bailey completed 13 of 20 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns. London Nunley had eight catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns. PNG amassed 473 yards of total offense, 261 rushing and 212 passing.

Leading 21-14, PNG received the second half kickoff and marched right down the field to push its lead to two touchdowns. Nguyen had a 23-yard run to the Indians 49. Chatagnier followed with a 3-yard run and busted through the line of scrimmage and raced 48 yards for a touchdown. That pushed the Indians lead to 28-14 with 10:01 left in the third quarter.

After the defense forced another quick three-and-out, PNG’s offense went back to work. Bailey hit Reid Richard for 41 yards to the Panthers 26 to get the drive going. Bailey hit Shea Adams on a 23-yard scoring strike to extend the Indians lead to 35-14 with 5:15 left in the third quarter.

Liberty Hill finally broke through with a scoring drive to end the third quarter. All 11 plays on the 59-yard drive were running plays. The drive was capped by a 20-yard touchdown run by Jack Pitchford on the final play of the third quarter. That made the score 35-21.

PNG iced the game late in the fourth quarter when Bailey hit Nunley for a 5-yard touchdown to make the score 42-21.

The Panthers closed out the scoring on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Joe Pitchford to Austin Fulford. That made the score 42-28 with 2:39 left in the game. Then Joe Pitchford hit brother Jack Pitchford for a 31-yard touchdown with :21 left in the game to make the score 42-35.

Game start

Liberty Hill received the opening kickoff, but it was the PNG defense that stepped up big on that initial possession of the game. The Indians forced a quick three-and-out.

The PNG offense went to work on its first possession. The Indians opened with completions from Bailey to Nunley of 13 and 8 yards. Nguyen broke loose up the middle for a 34-yard touchdown run to give the Indians a quick 7-0 lead with 10:05 left in the first quarter.

The Panthers had a promising drive going on their second possession. Noah Long opened the drive with a 70-yard run to the PNG 14. Carter followed with a 6-yard run to 8. Jack Pritchard bobbled the pitch and fumbled the ball which was recovered by the Indians’ Maxwell Scroggs.

After forcing a PNG punt, Liberty Hill didn’t waste any time scoring on its next drive. Carter broke through the line and raced 73 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 3:25 left in the first quarter.

PNG answered with a long scoring drive of its own. Bailey hit Nunley for a 9-yard completion on third-and-five. Chatagnier added a 26-yard run, and he capped the 9-play drive with a 13-yard TD to give the Indians a 14-7 lead with 11:54 left in the second quarter.

Liberty Hill dipped into its bag of tricks for its second score of the game. Facing fourth-and-three from it’s own 15 and lined up in punt formation, the snap went to Carter, who was the up back, and he raced 85 yards for a touchdown. That tied the game at 14-14 with 5:33 left in the second quarter.

PNG struck right back. Bailey hit Reid Richard for 23 yards to the Panthers 31. Bailey then hit Nunley on a 31-yard scoring strike to put the Indians back on top at 21-14 with just 2:17 left in the second quarter.

Both teams had an opportunity to put some additional points on the board in the final two minutes, but both failed and the score remained 21-14 heading into the locker room at halftime.

— Written By Daucy Crizer