By JOHN BLACK
With both teams playing for an 8-2 regular season record but neither needing a win to enhance their post-season status, the La Porte Bulldogs and the West Brook Bruins had quite a physical battle in Bulldog Stadium Friday night. And in the end, in a real thriller, the Bulldogs took the positive step toward the playoffs with a gutsy 19-14 victory before a boisterous and grateful home crowd.
Next comes the playoffs, and for the Bulldogs it could be an interesting opening match. They knew going into Friday night's game that they would play the South Houston Trojans at 7 p.m. this coming Friday at North Shore. They did not know they might have to enter that first-round match without their quarterback. Jeremy McNeal was injured near the end of the first half Friday and did not return to play, having suffered a possible concussion. His status for the first playoff game is still very much up in the air, but we can tell you right here that his replacement, Josh Vidales, did one outstanding job in relief.
Before we concentrate on what's coming, let's talk for a moment about this win over the Bruins. There was some hard hitting going on, and the first half was about as even as you could hope for--except for one missed extra point.
The game started with Eric Medina booting the opening kickoff out of the end zone. The Bruins went three-and-out on three passes, with Aaron Nance-Garrett and Ben Flores leading the defense on one of them and Chad Sutherland, Cameron Whilley and Devante Crew putting on a big rush to force an errant aerial on third down. The Dogs got the short punt into the wind on the West Brook 44.
Anthony Webb started with a run of two yards, and McNeal followed with a keeper for three. Move it back five yards for procedure, but that's no problem because Jeremy rolled left, tucked the ball and scooted nearly the full 10 yards needed for the first down. He went airborne for the final few feet, but was inches short. So Webb took a handoff left and got two yards and a first down. After Anthony was held to no gain and a McNeal pass was barely too high, here comes another third and 10. This time McNeal found Nance-Garrett for 16 yards and a first down at the Bruin 17.
With Nick Hamilton and Maurice Morris and Larry Smith and Joe Brewer and Tony Briones and Pierre Hernandez and Zach Reynolds beginning to take control of the trenches, McNeal handed off to Webb and the play covered six more yards to the 11. And from that point it was Webb off right guard, making one great cut and bursting into the end zone for the first TD of the night. Medina kicked true and it was 7-0 in favor of the Dogs with 7:21 left in the first period.
Medina booted another kickoff out of the end zone and the Dog defense held again as Whilley and Corey Lee and Keith Whitely and Lee once again made key contributions, forcing another punt. The Dogs took possession on their own 41. But this time the Bruins held and got the ball back on their own 19. They not only got their initial first down of the night, they also got their first TD. It was 7-7 with 2:23 left in the first quarter.
The next Dog possession had big promise, what with a 14-yard run by Webb and a keeper by McNeal that would have netted a first down, except for a chop block call against La Porte that killed the drive. Vidales had a nice punt into the wind but the Bruins were able to move from their own 26 to the go-ahead touchdown with 9:04 left in the second period. And that, my friends, was the last Beaumont points of the night.
The Bulldogs bounced right back. They started at their own 25, and the first big play was a McNeal run of 15 yards. The second big play was a McNeal pass to Nance-Garrett down the middle of the field; it covered 32 yards in all, to the Bruin 26. Whitely was in at running back and got a yard, then Jeremy kept for six. On third and three Anthony took a handoff, was trapped in the backfield, made a great cut, got some room, made another cut, and sprinted into the left corner of the end zone.
But then came a setback. Medina booted the extra point that would have tied the score at 14 apiece, but the Dogs got a procedure penalty and had to kick into the wind from five yards back. This time the boot was wide left and the Bruins were able to keep the lead at 14-13.
They were in position to increase that advantage because the Dogs touched the ensuing kick before it went 10 yards and West Brook got the ball on its own 49. But the La Porte defense rose to the occasion. Credit Whilley with a sack; credit Devante Crew with a sack; credit Thad Green with a tackle on a quarterback draw; and credit Ben Flores with a nice tackle on another run. Their 25-yard field goal try missed wide left, and the Dogs trailed by a point at the half.
Let's pause from the football action to point out what a great job the Mighty Bulldog Marching Band and the Chatos Drill team did during an outstanding halftime performance. It set the tone for the Bulldogs to fight their way back into the lead in the second half.
The offense was in the hands of junior punter and second-team quarterback Vidales, and he did a fine job of moving the ball and keeping the offense under control. On their first possession of the third period the Dogs started with a 13-yard run by Webb but could not get much else going so Josh the punter scooped up a low snap and kicked it to the West Brook five, where Chris Hickey caught it in the air and downed it. The defense bent just a bit but strong plays by Whitely and John Wesby and Alex Jones and Jarmarcus Erskin and a blast of a tackle by Chad Sutherland for a loss of three forced a punt.
The Dogs took over on their own 44 and marched to the lead. Anthony first got six and then 10 and a first down at the Bruin 40. Webb then added four but move it back five on a procedure penalty. After Anthony stepped off three yards, Vidales threw to Karl Terrebone for eight yards, setting up a fourth and inches. The quarterback sneak worked as Josh stretched the ball to the Bruin 30 for the first down.
Webb took a pitch right and covered 16 yards to the 14 as Terrebone and Zach Reynolds blocked hard downfield. Anthony then got four yards to the 10 and from there he took a handoff right, bounced to the outside and raced into the end zone for the go-ahead TD with 40 seconds left in the third period. The try for the two-point conversion was barely short but the Dogs had the 19-14 advantage.
And that, friends, is the way it ended, although we can't stop now because we have to tell you about some gutsy La Porte plays in the fourth quarter by both the offense and the defense and the special teams.
After that final TD the Dog defense held and the offense took possession again. The big play this time was a 13-yard pass from Vidales to Blake Turlington. And when the drive eventually stalled, Josh booted an outstanding punt inside the 20--only to see it come out to near the 30 because of an interference call on La Porte.
No problem, however, as a bad snap moved the ball back 10 yards; Sutherland, with help from Whilley, made a stop; and a missed passed forced a punt. So the Bulldog offense, looking to take time off the clock, did just that. The big play again was a pass as Vidales found Ryan Moye for a first down on a third and long; the aerial covered 13 yards in all to the Brook 37. The drive again dies, so Josh calmly boots a beauty that died at the West Brook one.
So bring it on again, defense. Sutherland and Whitely and Flores made plays, and the Bruins punt one more time. There was 1:55 left in the game, and Anthony ran hard behind strong blocking, getting one first down before the Dogs had to punt one more time. Facing an all-out rush, Vidales got the boot away cleanly and the Bruins had too much real estate to cover in too little time. Credit John Wesby with two nice defensive plays deep in the defensive backfield as the win was secured.
A lot of credit is deserved on the La Porte side. We will start with the performance of Josh Vidales at quarterback. He made some great throws; he handled the ball flawlessly; and when he was needed, he also got off some very nice punts. Also, we have to give a huge nod to the Dog defense. Maybe it bent a little on some passes, but in the end only three teams shut the Bruins down this season--Katy, North Shore and La Porte. No points allowed in nearly three full quarters is huge. And let's not forget the work in the trenches by Nick Hamilton and Maurice Morris and Larry Smith and Joe Brewer and Tony Briones and Pierre Hernandez and Zach Reynolds. They combined with the hard running of Anthony Webb to control the ball in the second half.
On the night, Webb had 34 carries for 174 yards, while McNeal, before he was injured, ran seven times for 45 yards, with Whitely getting four
carries for 10 yards and Vidales adding one tote for two yards. Jeremy was three of six passing for 53 yards and Josh was four of six for 36 yards. Nance-Garrett had two catches for 47 yards and Moye, Turlington, Terrebonne, Justin Collins and Reynolds had one catch apiece. The Dogs had 324 yards of offense on the night.
So now comes South Houston, the second seed in the small school division out of District 22-5A. Remember, that's 7 p.m. this coming Friday over at the spacious North Shore arena. Let's fill up our side with Bulldog fans.