By JOHN BLACK
This one was definitely not pretty, but in the end the La Porte Bulldogs managed to shake off the cobwebs of a two-week layoff to put away the normally high-scoring Channelview Falcons in the second half in Bulldog Stadium Friday night for a 35-21 victory in their 2011 District 21-5A debut.
The Bulldogs, under the direction of head coach Jeff LaReau, thus move to 5-1 on the season and have another district game at home this coming Friday when they host the Baytown Sterling Rangers at 7 p.m.
The match-up against Channelview Friday also featured the annual Homecoming festivities, and we can tell you that Chelsea Bishop was named Homecoming Queen, while Phillip Gay was named Homecoming King.
As for the action on the field, the Falcons did their best to make a game of it, scoring 14 unanswered points from late in the second period to early in the third stanza as they pulled even with the Bulldogs at 14 apiece.
But La Porte was not to be denied, and the Dogs responded to that second TD with one of their own to regain the lead with 1:31 left in the third stanza.
They got the ball thanks to a big defensive stand as Chad Sutherland and Hosa Scott and Alex Jones and and Tyrone Graves all had key defensive stops -- Graves and Jones combining for a sack on a fourth-and-10 situation. That allowed the offense to take over at its own 40, and Keith Whitely stepped up big time. He first ran for seven yards, then put on a real show with his next carry. He took a pitch left, made a cut back to the center of the field, broke through the linebackers, found running room, appeared to be tripped up, regained his balance and fought all the way to the Falcon 18 -- a gain of 35 yards.
Whitely then got five yards before Johnathan Lewis got three, then ran for a first down to the Falcon three. It was Lewis who scored the go-ahead TD, with Eric Medina kicking for the 21-14 La Porte advantage.
The lead grew to 28-14 soon thereafter. Whitely made a smart return of a Falcon punt and got it to midfield, then ran for five yards before adding four. Sutherland bulled for the first down, on the first play of the fourth quarter. With the offensive line regaining control and knocking the Falcon defense back on its heels, the drive continued to paydirt. The big play was a touchdown run by Whitely that put the Dogs in the driver's seat. But they still had work to do.
With just over seven minutes left in the game, the Falcons were trying to get something going offensively but fumbled and Hosa Scott fought hard at the bottom of a big pile to secure the ball for the Bulldogs. The offense couldn't move, but at least ran some time off the clock.
Channelview did eventually manage to score, cutting the La Porte lead to 28-21 with 4:06 left in the game, and the Falcons tried on onsides kick that was recovered by Garrett Green. And thus began the drive that put it away.
Starting at their own 41, the Dogs got two yards from Whitely, then seven from Lewis. Whitely then secured the first down at the Channelview 46, before running hard up the middle for 11 yards and another first down. The clock just kept ticking.
After the Falcons called their last time out, the Dogs tried to run out the clock. However, they faced a fourth-and-five from the 28 with eight seconds left, and they did not want to punt it away. So Vidales handed off to Whitely, who went left, cut back to the middle of the field, broke free and dove into the end zone as the final tick went off the clock. Medina was true, as usual, for the 35-21 final.
Perhaps the Bulldogs were in an understandable funk early in the game, considering their heroic win over Deer Park two weeks ago and the time off since then. For whatever reason, the La Portians had a rough first two quarters, and when they threw in a gift just before halftime, the Falcons were down by just seven points despite managing just three first downs.
Channelview, behind senior quarterback Averion Hurts, had been scoring piles of points in previous outings, but the Falcons did not get on the board until just 47 seconds remained before the halftime festivities. And that TD was the result of a La Porte fumble at the Bulldog 20 with barely more than a minute left in the first half.
It took just two plays to get the ball into the end zone from there, the big movement being an 18-yard screen play The Falcons actually missed the point after but a dead-ball procedure penalty was called before the kick, the ref moved it back five yards, and Channelview hit the second chance for the 14-7 halftime score.
Before that, it was all La Porte, although the Bulldogs failed to take advantage of excellent field position.
Channelview took the opening kickoff and went three-and-out, and the Dogs set up their first scoring drive at the Falcon 47, with a stiff breeze at their backs. Lewis stepped off 10 yards on the first play, and after Whitely got one and Lewis was stopped for no gain, Vidales fired a quick shot into the left flats and Jahvey Mark grabbed it and covered the 10 yards needed for the first down.
Whitely then ran for four, before Vidales was sacked for a loss of eight. So on third and eight Whitely took a direct snap from center Justin King and ran for 12 yards to make it fourth and two. Whitely got the call from there and stepped off a first down to the 15 as King and Chris Webendorfer, Maurice Morris, Tony Briones, Jose Garcia and Trevor Nelson -- and Michael Leagan and Jared Howard as well later in the game -- opened up holes on the offensive line.
Whitely got three yards to the left; Vidales hit Lewis for six to the six; and then senior linebacker/fullback Chad Sutherland and the O line took over. Chad bulled for five to a first down at the one, then rammed into the end zone on the next play and the Dogs had a 7-0 lead with 7:14 left in the first period, after Eric Medina booted the extra point.
Again the Falcons could not get so much as a first down, the big defensive play for La Porte in that stand being a tackle for a two-yard loss by Hosa Scott. Channelview punted into the wind and the Dogs had the ball on their own 42, looking to add to their lead. And it looked promising early as Vidales got two yards before Whitely darted for 15 more and a first down. The drive stalled from there, however, and Vidales punted out of bounds at the Falcon 14.
Credit the defense with another gem. Malik Graves defended a short pass; Ellis Hutchinson did the same on the net play; and Sutherland made a big tackle to force another punt. Whitely had a fine return, and the Dogs were in great shape at the Falcon 33.
But again, no points. This drive stalled at the Channelview 30, and Medina's try for the 47-yard field goal was plenty long enough but wide left, so the Falcons were still down by just a TD.
They got their initial first down of the game on the second play of the second quarter, but Blake Turlington and Scott and Chris Hickey put on a big rush and Hickey got the sack for a loss of two; Mark Guzman had a sack for a loss of four; and a long pass missed. Whitely's second nice punt return of the night gave the Dogs the ball on the Falcon 46.
Lewis stepped off six yards; a low snap resulted in a loss of seven; and a pass from Vidales to Taejon Wearen covered the 11 yards needed for a first down at the Channelview 36. Sutherland then ran hard for seven yards before bowling over would-be tacklers on his way to a first down at the 24. After Lewis went wide left for five, Whitely got a yard.
That made it third and four, and Josh rolled right and made a great running throw on the run, all the way into the end zone against the strong wind. Sophomore Trevor Nelson was there and he made an outstanding diving catch, barely in bounds, for the TD. Medina made it 14-0 and the Dogs appeared to be in control.
We need to mention that Lane Albertson absolutely leveled a Falcon blocker on the ensuing kickoff, and that Alex Jones, Cameron Whilley and Hickey but on a big rush and a sack for a loss of five; a draw play netted just a yard; and even though the Falcons did manage their second first down of the night, the defense held. And we will add that on the next Channelview possession, Turlington had a sack, with help from Jones.
But that 14-point lead melted down to seven points, as we described earlier, to give Channelview reason to hope.
When it was over, Whitely had 209 yards on the ground on 27 carries, with Wearen adding 34 and Lewis getting 29 and Sutherland totaling 23 yards. Add 55 yards of passing on a 5-of-13 night for Vidales and you have 336 yards of total offense for the Bulldogs and 25 first downs.
The defense held the Falcons to eight yards of rushing on 19 carries, and Channelview threw for 269 yards, hitting 19 of 31 aerial attempts.