By JOHN BLACK
ATASCOCITA (Sp) -- Four games so far this year, and three victories -- the third one coming here in Turner Stadium Friday night as the La Porte Bulldogs managed to overcome an embarrassing barrage of penalties to pull out a 26-7 victory over the Atascocita Eagles.
And now comes a big one as the Deer Park Deer come to Bulldog Stadium for a 7 p.m. Friday match-up in the final non-district game of the season for La Porte.
The Deer and the Dogs are no longer league rivals, but they are still crosstown rivals, and a large and boisterous crowd is expected to be on hand Friday. Deer Park is supposed to be pretty salty this year, and the Dogs will have their hands full. But records and stats don't mean anything when La Porte and Deer Park meet on the football field, so we suggest you waste no time getting a ticket and claiming a seat.
Refocusing our attention to the road win Friday over the Eagles, the Bulldogs carried a 13-7 lead into the halftime Homecoming festivities, as the La Porte defense was definitely up to the task -- despite senior defensive line anchor Corey Lee being on the sidelines with a bum knee. He'll have surgery this week and will miss a few games, but is expected back at least in time for the playoffs.
The Bulldog offense tried to extend the six-point lead in the third quarter, putting together a nice drive on its second possession. But the penalty bug bit hard -- real hard. The Bulldogs can't seem to avoid penalties -- especially personal fouls. So instead of having a first-and-goal at the Eagle two yard line with just over four minutes left in the quarter, they had a second-and-39 after an illegal block and a personal foul. That extended the La Porte penalty total to 100 yards to that point, and the illegal block wiped out a great run of 16 yards by Johnathan Lewis.
However, quarterback Josh Vidales helped them out, with a boost from a bad snap from center on a fourth-and-long play. Vidales scooped up the elusive pigskin at about the 50 and got off a beautiful punt that died at the Eagle two.
The good news did not last long, however, as the Eagles were able to run for a first down, and got 15 more yards on yet another Bulldog personal foul. But credit Nelson on one tackle and Nelson and Justin Pickell combining for another tackle, and the Eagles were forced to punt with 15 seconds left in the third period.
And finally the Bulldogs were able to get another TD, without any penalties. Starting from their own 49, the Dogs got eight yards on a quick pass from Vidales to Taejon Wearen; got a first down to the Eagle 40 on an 11-yard keeper by Vidales; and got another first down on back-to-back offsides calls against Atascocita.
Wearen then ran hard for seven yards, and on second and three Vidales faked a handoff, cut left, cut wider left, and scooted into the left side of the end zone. The run covered 23 yards, and Eric Medina made it 20-7 with 10:05 left in the game.
And for insurance, La Porte tacked on a third TD with 4:49 left. After the defense was awesome again, the Dogs took over on the Eagle 46. Key plays were an 11-yard run by Wearen; a pass from Vidales to Jahvey Marks for a first down at the Eagle 22; a very impressive pass and catch from Vidales to Marks for a first down at the eight; a seven-yard run by Keith Whitely; and the final bullish yard to paydirt by Chad Sutherland. That made it 26-7 as the try for the two-point conversion failed.
Talk about domination by a defense: The Eagles had 19 yards of rushing and 24 passing. That is outstanding defensive work.
Things looked good for the visiting Bulldogs in the early going. Eric Medina booted the opening kickoff out of the end zone, and individual defensive efforts by Dogs Malik Graves, Aaron Nance-Garrett and Cameron Whilley forced a punt.
The offense took over at the Eagle 33 after a return by La Porte's Keith Whitely, and Keith started the drive to paydirt with a one-yard run up the middle.
He then went left for five yards, before Vidales stepped off four. On fourth and one Whitely ran hard up the middle behind blocks from Justin King and Chris Webendorfer and Maurice Morris and got the first down at the Eagle 17.
After Whitely got a yard, the Dogs were penalized five yards for an illegal receiver downfield, so they faced a third and 14. So Whitely took a handoff right, made a nice cut, broke into the defensive backfield and sprinted into the end one for a touchdown with 8:25 left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing Eagle possession Chad Sutherland and Whilley combined for a stop and a loss of one; Atascocita hit a long pass but was flagged for offensive pass interference; the Eagles then missed a pass; and on third and 26 La Porte's Hoza Scott rushed the passer and tackled him well behind the line. The Eagles got lucky when the ball was kicked forward about 10 yards, but they still had to punt.
Disaster then hit the Bulldogs flush in the face. After a procedure penalty, facing third and 13, the Dogs tried a shovel pass but the Vic Holmes offering was picked off, giving the Eagles the ball on the Bulldog 35.
It took one play from there for the score: a 35-yard pass down the right side. That came with 4:53 left in the first period, and the extra point kick knotted the score at 7-7.
The next La Porte drive stalled, but we are happy to tell you that Vidales was able to hit Devan Gay with a pass down the right sideline, and despite the fact Gay was blasted as he caught the ball, he was able to hang on for a 23-yard gain. And that gain was good enough to eventually allow Medina to come on to try a 42-yard field goal. Eric already had a 46-yarder to his credit earlier in the year, and now he can add the 42-yarder to the list as the ball split the uprights with 1:55 still remaining in the long, long first period. It was 10-7 in favor of La Porte.
The Eagles could do nothing offensively on their ensuing try as Sutherland and Graves and Whilley and Trevor Nelson and Mark Guzman all made strong defensive plays. But the Dogs did not get good field position because they were flagged for a 15-yard personal foul penalty. The Eagles soon got the ball back, but found no room whatever to move, and thus the teams continued a punting exchange that lasted until just under five minutes remained before halftime.
The Eagles had the ball, and Sutherland and Holmes and Whilley were particularly strong on defense, and the Dogs got the ball back with 3:46 left in the second period. Johnathan Lewis had a nice run of 11 yards behind Morris and Webenforfer and Blake Turlington, and La Porte later converted a fourth-and-one to keep the drive alive. They also got a big boost by an Eagle personal foul penalty, and the Dogs got close enough for another Medina field goal. This one was from 34 yards and straight and true as well, and La Porte took a 13-7 lead into the dressing room.
now come the Deer; let's hope the penalty bug does not join them.