By JOHN BLACK
In as impressive an offensive and defensive performance that these parts have seen in years, the La Porte Bulldogs took absolute control of the state ranked and nationally ranked and unbeaten North Shore Mustangs in Bulldog Stadium Friday night, fighting and scrapping their way to a 27-10 victory to take control of the District 21-5A race.
It was virtually total domination as the Bulldogs managed to control the ball in the first half and play great defense, on their way to a 3-3 halftime deadlock. And in the second half it was once again all Bulldogs defensively, and this time also all La Porte offensively as well as the Dogs scored 21 unanswered points from early in the third quarter to near the end of the game.
The defining series came soon after the second half started. The Bulldogs had been relying heavily on their great senior running back, Keith Whitely, and their outstanding offensive line to control the football offensively. But Keith got popped on a run and fumbled, and the Mustangs took over in La Porte territory.
Some teams might have folded. The Bulldogs, instead, doubled their resolve. Two plays later the North Shore quarterback tried to run wide but he was smoked by cornerback John Nelson, forcing a fumble that Alex Jones recovered at the Bulldog 38.
Talk about redemption in a hurry! Whitely took a handoff right, was confronted by three defenders, split between two of them and ran over the third, regained his balance and raced down the sidelines, diving into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. That's 68 yards to paydirt, and Eric Medina's extra point made it 10-3.
As it turned out, the Dogs were in the lead, but far from done.
Trevor Nelson and Lane Albertson made a stop for a loss of five, and they had a lot of help from a handful of fellow defenders. Then Trevor made a tackle on a pass play and Corey Lee had a strong rush on third down, and the Mustangs had to punt.
Starting at their own 32, the Dogs soon had TD No. 2. Quarterback Jordan Jackson, rolling right, fired long and against the wind to Jahvey Mark, who made the comeback catch for a gain of 29 yards. And on second and nine Whitely took a handoff, gave it of to Johnathan Lewis coming right, and Johnathan raced 18 yards to a first down at the Mustang 20.
Britt Grant then ran six yards to the 14, and Whitely fought for two. On third and two Keith battled for a first down, by inches, at the 10. From that point Lewis ran wide left and almost scored. And from inches out, Jackson followed Justin King and Jose Garcia into the end zone. After Medina booted the extra point, the Dogs were up by a 17-3 count 3:34 left in the third quarter.
And still it was not over.
After the defense held, once again the offense controlled the ball and took time off the clock before Medina was forced to punt, and he booted a great one of 48 yards into the wind, all the way to the Mustang 12. And the defense stayed in the zone. A run was stopped by Lee; a pass was dropped by the Mustangs; and on third and 10 Alex Jones went high to intercept a North Shore aerial, returning the pick to the Mustang 10.
Whitely got four yards and Lewis went wide left to the six-inch line, and Jackson kept it from there, again behind King and Garcia, and found paydirt with 9:36 left. Medina's boot made it 24-3.
And still the Dogs were not finished.
We can't say enough about the defense. In no particular order, as they all were important, the likes of Corey Lee and Mark Guzman and Justin Pickell and Lane Albertson and Alex Jones and Hoza Scott and Victor Holmes and Ellis Hutchinson and Malik Graves and John Nelson and Trevor Nelson and Jesse Hickman and probably a few others we are not naming did an absolutely marvelous job all night. The Mustangs, averaging 50 points per game, had only 155 yards of total offense all night - and a lot of that came late, after the game was well decided, when they scored their only TD with just over a minute remaining.
At any rate, the Dogs had one last drive to put the icing on the cake, after that amazing defense held and the Dogs took over on downs. There were two highlights - Lewis had a big run wide right to get to the Mustang 44, and Whitely ran smooth over a Mustang defender on his way to the North Shore nine. Though the drive stalled from there, it was no problem because Medina booted a field goal from 25-yards out and La Porte was up by 24 at 27-3 with 3:55 left in the game. '
We will pause here to point out that Keith Whitely, thanks to a strong effort on his part and outstanding blocking from his Bulldog mates up front, had more yardage than the entire Mustang offense. Keith had 30 carries for 173 yards against a very deep and talented and well-coached North Shore defense.
The first half was definitely shades of the Katy game last year - two strong defenses, lined up basically to stop the run, and both doing so effectively. The result was hard-fought yardage, few first downs (especially by the Mustangs), and a bare minimum of passes.
North Shore started the game at its own 25 after Eric Medina booted the opening kickoff into the end zone. Three plays later - a tackle by Lane Albertson; a tackle by Hosa Scott; and a tackle for a loss by Alex Jones - and the Mustangs were forced to punt. The Dogs had fine field position, at their own 45.
But the sledding was perilous. Whitely opened the first drive with a run up the middle for five, but a false start moved the ball back those five, for a second and 10. Whitely then ran for no gain and a Jackson pass failed to connect, so Medina came on and booted a fine punt of 44 yards to the Mustang 11.
And once again, the defense rose to the occasion. Corey Lee and Hoza Scott combined for a stop; a Mustang pass had no chance, and actually could have easily been called intentional grounding; and Lee and Scott teamed up again, this time for a sack and a loss of five, forcing the second North Shore punt.
The Dogs had even better field position, this time at the Mustang 34. But again, the yardage was hard to get.
Johnathan Lewis ran wide left for two yards, before Britt Grant went up the middle on a counter for six. Keith then ran hard for the first down, at the North Shore 22. But here we go again with a false start - but it did not matter, because on third and long the Mustangs were flagged for pass interference and the Dogs got the ball first and 10 on the North Shore 14.
Whitely ran four yards up the middle to the 10, but Lewis lost those same four yards on a wide run to the left. After a pass missed, Medina came on and split the uprights on a 31-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs the early lead at 3-0 with 1:32 left in the first period.
After Eric again kicked out of the end zone, the Mustangs got the ball on their own 25 and had success as well, although Alex Jones and Trevor Nelson and Albertson and John Nelson all had strong plays on defense. Actually, Jones and Albertson combined to stop North Shore on a fourth-and-three deep in La Porte territory, so the Mustangs liked up for a field goal of their own. It was from 34 yards and it was good, and the score was knotted a 303 with 9:21 left in the first half.
Pay close attention to that time, because the Mustangs did not get the ball back until two seconds were left on the clock. That's right, a La Porte drive that lasted nine minutes and 19 seconds, while failing to add points, did the next best thing - kept the North Shore defense on the field and the offense on the sideline.
After Victor Holmes had a nice return of the kickoff that followed that North Shore field goal, the drive that made it well into Mustang territory featured mostly the Bulldogs running the ball out of the Wildcat formation, with quarterback Jackson lined up on the far right side and running back Whitely taking the snaps out of the shotgun.
Keith had a run of nine and a first down early in the drive, and a run of six on a third and four to move the chains again. Another big play was a pass from Jackson to Jahvey Mark on a third and long. It missed, but the Mustangs were flagged for pass interference for the second time on the night, so make it a La Porte first down on the North Shore 39.
We will point out here that a key component of this excellent ball control offense was produced by Michael Leagan and Justin King and Jose Garcia and Tony Briones and Maurice Morris and Jared Howard and Michael Rodriguez more than held their own against the highly-touted North Shore defense.
At any rate, facing a fourth and inches with just over two minutes left before halftime, the Bulldogs lined up and went right at the Mustangs, Jackson keeping for two yards and a first down. That was after Whitely ran for four and then five and was then held for no gain.
The drive stalled, however, so on fourth down the Bulldogs decided to let the clock run down and hand it over to Medina. With seven seconds left, holder Whitely placed the ball directly on the 30 and Eric's boot was well long enough into a fairly stout south wind - but rarely right. So with two seconds left, the Mustangs ran one play that was snuffed by Jesse Hickman, and the two teams went into the halfltime dressing room deadlocked at three apiece.
We've already told you about the second half. Now all you need to know is that La Porte is 8-1 on the season and the only unbeaten team in the district. The Dogs hit the road this Friday for their final regular season game, against once-beaten Port Arthur Memorial. And then the playoffs get underway.