By JOHN BLACK
Baysun1437@gmail.com BAYTOWN (Sp) -
Well, one definite advantage of being in a six-team district is that if you win the first two league games you are virtually assured a spot in post-season play. Thus, with their 56-21 victory over the Baytown Sterling Rangers here in Stallworth Stadium Friday night, the La Porte Bulldogs can consider themselves playoff bound.
Not that there will be a lot of time for celebration. The Bulldogs enter one of their toughest three-game stretches in recent memory this coming week as they host perennial power North Shore at 7 p.m. Friday at Bulldog Stadium. That will be followed by an Oct. 29 road game to Port Arthur Memorial, and then comes a regular season finale at home against Beaumont West Brook. And you will likely not be pleased to know that North Shore blasted West Brook - the No. 9 team in the state - Friday.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. We need to focus on this lopsided win over Sterling, in a game where the special teams played a vital role. And before we get started, you need to know that this Sterling team beat Pasadena earlier in the year 61-14, and scored 50 points against South Houston this year as well.
The Rangers got the ball first but could not get a first down against the La Porte defense as Cameron Whilley made a couple of nice plays, and the Dogs got the first Sterling punt at the La Porte 47. Anthony Webb got five yards and then two and then a first down on a gain of four; Jeremy McNeal hit Karl Terrebonne for 12 and a first down at the Ranger 30; Webb got four yards, then three; and Anthony got a first down at the 18 on a gain of five.
On a second and 11 Jeremy hit Karl for 11 yards and a first down at the eight, then Anthony went left, cut, cut again, and scooted into the end zone for a touchdown with 4:18 left in the first quarter. Eric Medina kicked the extra point and the Dogs had a 7-0 lead.
Medina then kicked off and the Rangers had trouble fielding it and had to start from their own two. But they took advantage of a personal foul call against La Porte and hit a couple of big passes, the second for 54 yards and a TD that knotted the score at 7-7 with 1:34 left in the first quarter.
Keith Whitely had a nice return of the ensuing kickoff and the Dogs started on their own 38. Webb got four yards as Joe Brewer and Tony Briones and Nick Hamilton and Maurice Morris and Larry Smith and Zach Reynolds and Pierre Hernandez started taking control of the line of scrimmage. Jeremy then rolled right and hit Aaron Nance-Garrett, who ran over a Sterling defender and got 22 yards in all to the Sterling 36.
Jeremy then ran for two before keeping for short yardage and fumbling, but Anthony scooped it up and the gain was six yards in all to set up a third and two. Whitely went up the middle and fought for five yards and a first down. Keith then added three to the 20, and McNeal hit Hernandez for a gain of 14 to the six. Whitley took a handoff, was hit at the three, but fought his way into the end zone, dragging a tackler. Medina booted it through for the extra point and the Dogs had a 14-7 lead with 9:35 left in the first half.
Then came a phenomenal stretch by La Porte: the Dogs recovered not one, not two, but three straight pooch kickoffs by Medina, leading to 21 more points before halftime. The first was recovered by John Wesby at the Sterling 30. The ensuing drive started with a short pass from McNeal to Hernandez, who got a first down at the Ranger 11. Move it five more yards to the six as the Rangers were offsides.
But the drive ended with a fumble on a fourth-and-one try, so give it over to the Rangers. But not for long. Whilley made a stop, and Hoza Scott and Jarmarcus Erskin and Thad Green combined for a big stop on third down, and the Rangers had to punt. Whitely had a return to the Sterling 37, setting up the third La Porte TD drive.
First Jeremy pitched to Anthony, who got 16 yards to the 21, but Webb trotted off the field with an arm injury. So Jeremy went up the middle, following blockers all the way to the eight for a gain of 13 yards. Then Keith took advantage of more good blocking, darting into the end zone for the score with 3:35 left in the half. Eric made it 21-7.
So Medina pooched the kickoff again, and this time Montez Scott recovered it. But wait; the Dogs are flagged for being offsides, so move it back five yards and pooch it again. And lo and behold this time Mackenzie Richburg gets the recovery and the Dogs have the ball on the Ranger 48.
Jeremy took a shot deep, firing long to Justin Collins racing down the left sidelines. The pass was a beauty but barely beyond Justin's outstretched hands. So McNeal kept left for nine yards, setting up a third and inches. Jeremy kept again, went right, stumbled slightly then broke free and raced into the end zone. He covered 39 yards for the score, and Medina booted the extra point to give the Bulldogs a 28-7 lead with 3:01 left in the half.
This time the Dogs decided to boot it deep but that backfired as Chance Nelson returned it 87 yards for a touchdown. But no sweat, because the Dogs got the ball back with plenty of time to score, and that is exactly what they did.
Moving from their own 41 after a fine return of the kickoff by Tommy Banda, the Dogs started their fifth touchdown drive with a 15-yard pass from McNeal to Terrebonne. Jeremy added six on a keeper, then went five for a first down at the 33. McNeal then threw to Nance-Garrett for 12 yards and a first down at the 21 with 1:19 left. An incomplete pass and a holding call made it second and 20, and McNeal kept for five. Another missed pass made it fourth and 15, but Jeremy went back to pass, tucked it, ran right, cut back to the left and sprinted into the left corner of the end zone with 38 seconds left before halftime. Medina made it 35-14.
The Bulldog defense, by the way, was not on the field long, but held Sterling to three first downs in the first two quarters. And we will add as well here that the Mighty Bulldog Band and the Chatos drill team brought the crowd to its feet with outstanding halftime performances.
When play resumed, the La Porte offense picked right back up where it left off. Moving from its 35, the offense marched 65 yards for a sixth touchdown. Webb had runs of first 15 and then five yards, with an incomplete pass included in there. On third and five McNeal was in the shotgun but a bad snap saw the ball rolling past him on the left. He scooped it up, went right, put on a nifty spin, sidestepped a would-be tackler, threw in another spin, got into the open and converted the busted play into a first down.
Webb then stepped off nine yards before Jeremy kept for a first down at the 15. Sterling was offsides, and from the 10 Anthony made two great cuts and burst into the end zone for the score. Medina booted for the 42-14 lead with 8:49 left in the third period.
The Bulldog defense allowed just one first down on the ensuing Sterling possession, and Corey Lee made sure they did not get another one as he pounced on a fumble, giving La Porte the ball on the Sterling 41.
The first big play of this drive was a pass from McNeal to Zach Reynolds that established a first down at the Ranger 29. The second big play was a third-and-19 pass from McNeal to Nance-Garrett that produced a first down at the 15. The third big play was a pass from Jeremy to Pierre Hernandez that covered the final 16 yards after a one-yard running loss. Medina was Mr. Reliable again on the extra point and the Bulldogs had a 49-14 lead and there was still over two minutes left in the third quarter.
Hoza Scott had a big sack on the next Ranger possession, and McNeal was back for the punt. The ball hit in front of him and bounced right into his arms at the La Porte 38. He went wide right, got passed most of the defenders, then cut way back across the field to the left. The Rangers were finally able to run him out of bounds at the 12, and tack on six more yards for hitting Jeremy well out of bounds. So Josh Vidales comes on as the quarterback and he hands to freshman Hoza Scott, who drags tacklers into the end zone for the score. Medina made it 56-14.
The Rangers got a meaningless TD late in the game, and we will note here that as the Bulldogs ran out the final minutes on the clock, Tommy Banda and Josh Vidales and Hoza Scott produced some hard running, as head coach Jeff LaReau kept to his usual gentlemanly ways of not trying to run dirt into a beaten opponent's face.
Now let's talk a few stats. The Bulldogs rushed for 328 yards and passed for 145 more. They had 28 first downs. McNeal ran 14 times for 131 yards and Webb had 113 yards on 19 carries. Jeremy threw 15 times and completed 10 for 145 yards. The Rangers had just four first downs through the first three quarters and only eight in all, and they had only 28 yards rushing.