A banner on the home side of Bulldog Stadium Friday night said it best: “26-24-1: Celebrating 51 Years . . ."
Make that 27-24-1 in favor of La Porte, thanks in no small part to two outstanding plays – one offensively and one defensively – by highly-touted Bulldog junior Hoza Scott. As a result, the La Porte Bulldogs beat the Deer Park Deer, 20-16, in a wild one, moving to 3-0 in District 21-5A play and 6-1 on the season.
It could not have been a better night for a high school football game. Freshly manicured Bulldog Stadium was packed. There was a slight breeze off Galveston Bay, and two neighboring rivals were squaring off for the 52nd time. Throw in a magnificent “Star Spangled Banner” by the LPHS choir to get it started, and you had the makings of a great night.
And for the third straight year, the La Porte Bulldogs got the big win.
Most of the first half, however, was definitely not to the liking of the Bulldog faithful. The Deer grabbed an early 13-0 lead, but one of the most exciting five minutes of football seen around this area in years produced two scores for La Porte late in the second quarter, as the two teams went to the halftime dressing room deadlocked at 13-13.
A year ago the Dogs had a long scoring drive to start the game and put the Deer in a hole. This year the roles were reversed. The La Porte offense could get no more than one first down after the opening kickoff, and a punt by Eric Medina pinned the Deer deep in their own territory at the 10.
But DP coverted one third-and-eight situation and hit a key fourth-and-nine pass for 18 yards and a first down, on their way to a 90-yard drive and a 6-0 lead. The Deer Park quarterback tried to throw a pass to the right and it went right into, and right out of, the hands of a Bulldog defender. What had all the makings of a pick six ended up being a routine incomplete pass, and minutes later the Deer found paydirt. A bad snap resulted in a 6-0 DP lead with 4:51 left in the first period.
The Bulldogs tried to get on the board, and their next drive produced sound results as Keith Whitely and Johnathan Lewis had key gains to put the ball at the Deer Park 33. But the drive stalled and an errant snap did not help Eric Medina’s attempt at a 50-yard field goal. The Deer thus managed to maintain their six-point lead.
But not for long. A ref called pass interference on the Bulldogs to wipe out a John Nelson interception and allow the Deer to keep their drive alive. And lo and behold, here came a second consecutive pass interference call against the Dogs, setting the Deer up for their second touchdown. It came with 8:41 left in the half, and the Dogs were in a hole at 13-0.
Once again the offense stalled, but the defense held as Trevor Nelson and Hoza Scott and Lane Albertson made stops, forcing a punt that Whitely returned, impressively, to the Deer Park 35.
Whitely ran for four yards; but move it back five for procedure. Victor Holmes came in at quarterback and ran for six yards, and Whitely appeared to have the first down as he took a direct snap and made it to the 15. But here comes another flag – for procedure. So it’s third and 10, but Lewis took a handoff left and got the first down at the 23.
Whitely got two yards, and quarterback Jordan Jackson went back to pass on second and eight. He spotted Lewis in the right corner of the end zone and the pass was right on the mark. Jonathan gathered it in and the Dogs had their first TD of the night. That’s the good news. The bad news is that a bad snap resulted in a busted chance for the extra point, so the Dogs were down by seven at 13-6.
And here is where it get’s awfully interesting, with 2:19 left before halftime.
The La Porte defense held, forcing a punt. Whitely gathered it in at the nine, on the right side of the field. He cut to the center, then to the left, and somehow managed to elude a wave of would-be tacklers, racing down the sidelines, all the way into the end zone – 91 yards in all.
However, the Dogs were flagged for an illegal block at the 20, so they had first down at the 35. There were 17 seconds left. So Jackson fired into the end zone, and the Deer were flagged for pass interference. Put the ball at the Deer 20, with eight seconds left.
What do you do? How about a perfect Jackson pass into the left corner of the end zone, where linebacker Scott, in the form of wide receiver Scott, awaited the throw. Hoza went high – about a foot higher than the defender – and snagged the ball out of the air. It was a thing of beauty, and Medina’s kick knotted the score at 13 all.
The Deer got the ball to start the second half but did not have it for long as Ellis Hutchinson picked off a DP pass to give La Porte good field position. But the offensive effort fell short, so Medina had to punt.
Deer Park managed to put together a good drive that resulted in a field goal, giving the Deer a 16-13 lead with 5:16 left in the third period. That was the last Deer Park score of the night.
The next La Porte drive looked promising, but ended with a lost fumble. No problem, however, although things got a little scary for the home team when Scott, who had been all over the field offensively all night, had to be helped off the field. But his defensive mates came through, and Hoza was able to get back on the field minutes later.
There was an exchange of possessions, with the Deer going for it on fourth down and the Dogs stopping them, the defense handing the ball over to the offense with 7:20 left in the game.
A promising ground game featured a 29-yard run by Whitely and a bullish effort by Keith for 14 more to get the ball to the Deer 23. But on a third and long Jackson was sacked, so Medina came on for a field goal try of 41 yards. It was barely wide left, and the Dogs had to give up the ball, with just under five minutes left in the game.
As the stands were still buzzing about that missed field goal, the Deer decided to run the ball. There was the usual handoff, and the usual run to the right. Except on this play, Hoza Scott stripped the ball from the runner, almost without breaking stride, and raced all alone into the end zone. The mood in the stadium switched immediately, with the home crowd rocking and the visitors sitting in stunned silence.
Medina booted the extra point and La Porte had the 20-16 lead with just over four minutes left.
The Buldog defense was once again up to the task, forcing a punt with just over two minutes left. Whitely stepped off 23 yards to not only get the last first down but give the Dogs the opportunity to run out the clock. They did so, and it was over. Another La Porte victory.
Thanks for coming, drive home safely. Up next for the Dogs is Channelview, at 7 p.m. this coming Friday on the road.