By JOHN BLACK
First Deer Park fell, then the mighty Mustangs from North Shore felt the sting of the Bulldogs. And Friday night in Bulldog Stadium the home team treated their faithful followers to the most important win of all this season -- a 24-20, come-from-behind victory over the state-ranked Port Arthur Memorial Titans.
The win clinches the top spot in District 21-5A for the now 8-1 Bulldogs, no matter what happens this coming Saturday night on the road against Beaumont West Brook, because at worst La Porte and Memorial would be tied and La Porte would get the title nod with this win.
As for post-season play, it starts in two weeks and it's too early to speculate as to which 22-5A team the Dogs will go up against, but it will be a familiar opponent, since La Porte just moved out of that league. The guess right now is that the first Bulldog post-season opponent will be either Pasadena Memorial, Pasadena or South Houston.
At any rate, we are getting ahead of ourselves. In the huge win over the Titans Friday, the Bulldogs had battled to just a 6-3 deficit at the half. And those first 24 minutes featured a school record 55-yard field goal by junior Eric Medina. But Memorial broke an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of the third period, moving to a 10-point lead at 13-3. The scoring drive covered 15 seconds.
However, the Dogs did not hang their heads. In fact, an Alex Jones sack of 18 yards was the deciding factor in forcing a Titan punt minutes later, and the Dogs set up on their own 49.
Quarterback Josh Vidales hit Aaron Nance-Garrett for 18 yards to the 33, and a Keith Whitely run and Memorial personal foul allowed La Porte to set up deep in Titan territory. Vidales threw to Taejon Warren for three yards, then Whitely ran for three, setting up a third and four. A pass play did not work, and a personal foul and ejection forced a Medina 43-yard field goal try that was plenty long enough but barely wide right.
Okay, so we're still down by 10. But not for long. Alex Jones stopped a Titan run and then Whitely stepped in front of a Memorial aerial attempt at about the Titan 35 and ran it into the end zone. Quick pick for six, and with Medina supplying the point after, the Bulldogs were still very much in this one at 13-10 with 4:38 left in the third period.
However, here came the Titans again. Their quarterback ran for 32-yards on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, and soon afterwards he hit a long pass. And the Dogs were kind enough to help out with another personal foul. Add a quarterback keeper for the score, and it was 20-10 with 3:05 left in the third period. Memorial had three touchdowns in barely more than two minutes of clock time.
We are pleased to report that from the La Porte 20 after the ensuing kickoff, Keith Whitely made one of the finest runs seen in Bulldog Stadium in many, many years -- and there have been a bunch of them. He went left, was hit, broke free, started moving downfield, was hit again, got loose again, threw a hard stiff-arm, kept rolling, and made it all the way to the Memorial 31. That's 49 yards in all, as the Bulldogs just refused to quit.
Hoza Scott, in on offense for the first time, spelled Whitely and got seven yards, and on third and three he fought his way down to the Titan 17. Whitely went back in and got three yards; Keith went up the middle on a counter and reached a first down to the Memorial five; Scott followed a flock of blockers to the one-foot line; and Whitely leaped over the stack from there to get the TD as time expired in the third period. Medina's kick made it 20-17 as the final stanza got underway.
The defense held this time, with Chad Sutherland and Scott and Chris Hickey and Jones and Corey Lee and others stepping up. The Dogs got the ball back on their own 35.
Whitely and Johnathan Lewis started following the blocks of the up-front guys such as Justin King, Maurice Morris, Corey Lee, Trevor Nelson, Jose Garcia and Chris Webendorfer and Michael Leagan and Tony Briones, and the Bulldogs were on the move. And they actually hit a big run by Scott for what would have been a first down, but there was a fumble and a Memorial recovery and the drive was stopped.
The Bulldog defense bent a bit after that but never broke, forcing a punt, and the offense got the ball back with 5:17 left in the game. The ball was on the La Porte 17 yard line.
Whitely got 10 yards; Scott was held to no gain; Taejon Warren ran for six; and Whitely ran for three to set up a fourth and one. Keith followed blocking to a first down at the La Porte 40 with 3:08 left in the game. Whitely then ran for 11 to get inside Titan territory at the 49, but Lewis lost a yard, and the Dogs were flagged for illegal procedure. So make it second and 16 and run Whitely for three yards, and let's call a time out with 1:43 left in the game, facing third and 13. Vidales threw to Victor Holmes for nine yards, making it fourth and four. Wait a minute. Make it fourth and nine on a false start; that's 10 yards given up this drive on penalties. But no sweat because Vidales rolled right and fired, on the run, a bullet to Wearen for a first down at the Titan 37.
Whitely then ran for 11 more to the Memorial 26, before stepping off seven to the 19, from whence the Dogs called a time out with 54 seconds left in the game. Thanks, because we all needed a breather.
From the 19, Vidales pitched back to Holmes, and he skirted the left end to the Titan nine for a first and goal. Never mind that Whitely was stopped for no gain, because Holmes went left to the three. Whitely then fought his way into the end zone, over the right side of the line, and the Bulldogs had the 24-20 lead with 28 seconds left in the game.
We can not over-emphasize the importance of the determined running and equally determined blocking on this heart-stopping final drive of the night. It was a thing of beauty, and the defense came on to stop any last-minute Titan heroics and secure the huge win.
Anyone who saw all the offensive fireworks of last week's Bulldog win over North Shore might get the idea that the first half of this one was boring, since only nine points were scored. But there were plenty of hard hits, some outstanding efforts, one outstanding La Porte defensive stand, a couple of impressive La Porte offensive drives, a school record field goal, and one Port Arthur Memorial blitz -- all of which resulted in a 6-3 Titans advantage at the half.
The Dogs were forced to punt on their first possession, and Josh Vidales' kick was downed at the Titan three. And thus began a 96-yard drive to no points.
Scott had a nice tackle for La Porte early in the drive, but that was pretty much it in terms of Bulldog accolades until Memorial got deep into Dog territory. At first and goal at the La Porte nine, the Titans got two yards, with Chad Sutherland making the tackle; they got three more, with Alex Jones making the stop; and they got three more, with Cameron Whilley on the tackle. That adds up to fourth and one, and Sutherland and Whilley and Chris Hickey and several others made the big stop to keep the Titans out of the end zone.
Moving from their own one, the Dogs were steady and impressive. Keith Whitely got three yards, then added nine and a first down. Johnathan Lewis then stepped off 12 more yards, before Whitely went up the middle for nine to the 33. Keith got two more for a first down at the 35, and after Whitely lost two, Vidales hit Whitely out of the backfield, and the play covered 10 yards.
The Titans were offsides on the third-and-two, so chalk up another first down. Lewis lost two yards, but Taejon Wearen stepped off nine to the left, before getting one more, setting up a fourth and one. So Whitely got the first down with a gain of six, and the Dogs appeared to be on a roll. Scratch that, however, as a trick play and a false start and a short gainer foiled the momentum and forced another Vidales punt.
Port Arthur started at its own 20 and could go nowhere. Malik Graves made a nice tackle on a short pass; Tyrone Graves and Mark Guzman combined on a tackle for a loss of two; and Graves, Hickey, Sutherland and Jones combined for a stuff to force a punt.
The offense could not move, so the defense had to come on and pitch a shutout. It worked. Ellis Hutchinson smoked a receiver on second down, after a pass missed on first down; another incomplete pass brought on the punter again; and Whitely made a nice fair catch to allow the Dogs to set up at the Memorial 42.
A personal foul call on the Dogs appeared to snuff the offensive effort, but a run up the middle by Whitely gained nine yards and got the ball to the Titan 38. Head coach Jeff LaReau then sent the strong-legged and accurate Medina onto the field to attempt a school record 55-yard field goal. And folks, he hit it! The boomer rode the north wind through the uprights, and the Bulldogs had a 3-0 lead with only 2:01 left before the half.
That's the good news. The bad news is that Memorial hit two big plays -- a run and a pass -- and found paydirt in just 27 seconds. The good news to follow is that Malik Graves blocked the extra point, so the Dogs were down by just three with 27 seconds left in the second period.
In the end, it could be said that those quick scoring drives proved to be the undoing of the Titans, because their defense was forced to spend a lot of time on the field, and finally wilted under the constant La Porte offensive barrage.