By JOHN BLACK
The highly touted and area ranked La Porte Bulldogs learned a hard lesson in front of their home crowd Friday night - one of the keys to meeting high expectations is the ability to keep key personnel on the field.
The unbeaten Bulldogs were heavily favored to beat the winless Clear Springs Chargers Friday, but just as the breeze shifted from out of the south in the first half to out of the north in the second half, the wind definitely shifted on the La Porte season as the Chargers sprinted past the Dogs, 32-8.
That is not a misprint. It was as thorough a loss as La Porte has suffered since running into the Port Author buzz saw in Reliant Stadium at the end of the 2011 season. The difference, however, is that the Reliant Stadium loss ended a brilliant 12-2 season in which the Bulldogs beat Katy and North Shore, among others. This loss produces a laundry list of questions, and needs, for La Porte just three games into the season.
Not to make excuses, but the Bulldogs were definitely playing shorthanded. The game started with All-District offensive lineman Maurice Morris limping in on crutches, and starting defensive back Malik Graves was on the sidelines in street clothes. And it was not long before starting quarterback Jordan Jackson went down with an eye injury and was not able to return to the game.
We will note, however, that sophomore quarterback Nick Brown was a gamer, for sure. He was in street clothes himself when the opening gun sounded, nursing an injury himself. But when Jackson went down, Brown suited up and saw the lion's share of the action under center the rest of the way.
And to be honest, the Bulldogs actually were in a good position late in the game to take the lead. Senior kicker Eric Medina had booted a 42-yard field goal in the third quarter to get the Dogs close, and the defense forced a Clear Springs punt. La Porte was in position to have the ball, some slight momentum, and fairly good field position. But the punt hit a Bulldog player and was recovered by the Chargers, and before you could say first loss of 2012, Springs had piled up 19 points to turn a tight game into a rout.
They hit a pass in the corner of the end zone for a TD that made it 19-8; they picked off a La Porte pass and quickly hit a 57-yard TD pass to make it 26-8; and they had a long run after another LP turnover to end the scoring.
It was a blitz.
The less said about the first half, the better. It started poorly for the Bulldogs and did not end much better. The only real positive to come out of those first two quarters was the fact that La Porte trailed by only eight points, at 13-5. Bulldog super kicker Eric Medina usually boots the kickoffs out of the end zone, but his kick to start this one Friday made it "only" about two yards past the goal line. Springs' Zack Little gathered it in and, basically, just turned on the jets down the right sidelines. He was barely touched - 102 yards in all for the touchdown. Only 15 seconds ticked off the Bulldog Stadium clock, and La Porte was down 7-0 with 11:45 left in the first period.
It did not help that the offense quickly went three-and-out, and Clear Springs got the ball at its own 29 - after a 50-yard boot by Medina. The defense held, thanks in no small part to a holding call and two bad snaps, and an 11-yard punt by the Chargers allowed the Dogs to take over at their own 44.
Keith Whitely stepped off two yards and Britt Grant added five, before Johnathan Lewis took a pitch left and covered 20 yards to the Springs 29. Keith then got four before quarterback Jordan Jackson rolled right and threw to Grant coming out of the backfield for 10 yards and a first down at the 15.
Lewis ran hard for five yards and Whitely added three, but on third and two from the seven the Bulldogs decided it was time to throw the ball. It did not work. The pass was intercepted, the drive was killed, a great scoring opportunity was wasted, and by the time you tack on a personal foul against La Porte on the play, instead of a 7-7 ball game the Dogs are still down by seven and the Chargers have the ball on their own 33.
Clear Springs took advantage of that gift and mounted a 67-yard scoring drive that featured key passes - including a 27-yarder for the TD. However, the snap for the extra point was bad, the kick was blocked in the line, and Garrett Green scooped it up and sprinted down the left sideline some 100 yards for two points. That made it 13-2, and the score stayed that way until the last play of the first half.
But we will get to that later. We first have to tell you that quarterback Jackson was injured on that aforementioned interception and was unable to return. Victor Holmes took his turn at the signal calling position for one series, but he's a defensive back as well, and the Dogs turned to a sophomore who, as we said before, was not even in uniform when the game started.
As for that last play of the half, we will report that Brown led a ground attack that featured Whitely and Lewis and Grant, moving the ball to the Chargers' 21 before the Bulldogs ran out of time. So the Dogs called their last timeout with six seconds left in the half and Medina calmly booted a 38-yard field goal to make it 13-5.
But you know what happened in the second half, so now the Bulldogs must regroup, and they will have their first opportunity to do so this coming Friday when they travel to Brazoswood for a 7 p.m. contest against the Bucs. After that, they open the 2012 District 21-5A race at home against Baytown Sterling.