By JOHN BLACK
PORT ARTHUR (Sp) - The La Porte Bulldogs are the official, no doubt about it, back-to-back champions of District 21-5A, by virtue of their 37-33 victory Friday night over the Port Arthur Memorial Titans.
The Bulldogs, under the direction of head coach Jeff LaReau, are once again headed to the Class 5A, Division II football playoffs as the No. 1 seed out of 21-5A. They will play Pasadena Memorial at 1 p.m. this coming Saturday at Abshire Stadium in Deer Park. Memorial beat Alvin, 27-24, this past Saturday to make the playoffs.
The game against Pasadena Memorial will not be without its challenges. Team leader Keith Whitely suffered a knee injury in the win over Port Arthur and is definitely out this week. He may be able to get back to action in another week or two, or he may have season-ending knee surgery. And Johnathan Lewis, who scored three touchdowns against Port Arthur, suffered a high ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of that game and will miss at least this week as well. And defensive leader Hosa Scott was walking around campus Monday with a cast on his right hand. He is expected to play against Pasadena Memorial, but will probably not be able to add his talents on the offensive side of the ball, at either running back or receiver.
The Dogs found out this past week that the University Scholastic League had reconsidered the manner in which 21-5A was to have selected its playoff seeds. Since the Titans had been beaten earlier in the year by North Shore, by seven points, and the Mustangs had been thrashed last week by the Bulldogs, by 17 points, the Titans would have been in a real hole if the three-teams-tied-for-the-top points rule had been used. So a new vote of 21-5A coaches was taken, and all Port Arthur Memorial had to do was beat the Bulldogs Friday and they would go into post-season play as the No. 1 seed.
Well, they could not do it. The Bulldogs just had too many big plays in them, both offensively and defensively. It was a nail bitter, for sure, between two talented teams. But The Dogs got it done in the end, and thus have the more favorable playoff draw.
La Porte did it by scoring 30 points in the first half and then hanging on in the end, coming up with a big Pick Six for their only TD in the final 24 minutes, and getting a key sack near the end to kill whatever slim chance the Titans had.
The Bulldogs got the ball first Friday, and on first and 10 from the 25 quarterback Jordan Jackson handed off to senior running back Keith Whitely. Keith went off left tackle, took a slight path farther left, then made a cut and literally burst into the open. He was finally stopped by two Memorial tacklers -- and a referee who could not get out of the way -- at the Memorial nine. That's 66 yards in all.
After Johnathan Lewis got a yard and a pass missed, Jackson rolled right, avoided a tackle, made a great read and threw to Lewis in the end zone. Touchdown La Porte. Eric Medina booted the extra points and the Dogs had a 7-0 lead with 10:28 left in the first quarter.
The Bulldog defense then stopped the Titans after just one first down and forced a punt as Lane Albertson, Mark Guzman, Alex Jones and Corey Lee made key plays. And although the Bulldogs could not get points on their next possession, they ran some time off the clock and Medina came on and produced a great punt that was killed at the Titan four. It was one of two key punts off the foot of the talented Medina. More on the other one later.
Again the Dog defense was tough, forcing a punt. And senior middle guard Corey Lee demolished the Titan blockers and blocked the kick. The ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety and a 9-0 La Porte lead. And Memorial had to kick off from the 20.
It appeared the Bulldogs had some bad luck as they did not get the field position they anticipated on the free kick by the Titans, and when they were flagged for a false start on the first play, they faced first and 15 from their own 15.
Absolutely no problem. Johnathan Lewis took a pitch right, appeared to be bottled up behind the line, used a quick burst of speed to get around the end, then cut back to the middle of the field and turned on the after-burners. No Titan was within 10 yards of him when he reached the end zone. Medina made it 16-0 with 1:27 left in the first quarter.
The Titans then managed to put together a 61-yard scoring drive, getting the TD with 8:33 left in the second quarter, but Memorial went for the two-point converstion and the throw was intercepted by Malik Graves. So La Porte had a 16-6 lead.
Not for long. Victor Holmes had a nice return of the ensuing kickoff, setting the Dogs up on their own 34. And on first down, the Dogs went into the Wildcat formation with Whitely taking the snap. He handed off to Lewis, and this time Johnathan took advantage of more great blocking by the offensive line. He went straight up the middle, blew by everyone, and covered the 66 yards to paydirt very quickly. Medina's kick made it 23-6 with 8:34 left before the half.
In case you weren't paying close enough attention, that's three straight offensive plays for La Porte - a pass, a run and a run - and three straight touchdowns for Lewis.
And then things got a little crazy. The Titans managed their second touchdown drive with an almost unbelieveable assist from the referees. The yellow flags were flying all over the field on virtually every play, and every call went against the Dogs. The worst was a penalty that robbed La Porte of a Graves interception in the end zone that would have killed the Titan drive. It thus came as no surprise that Memorial scored with 3:13 left in the half. They booted the extra point and the Dogs were up by 10 at 23-13.
Then La Porte decided not to settle for a 10-point lead, and the second Bulldog pass of the ensuing drive was picked off and returned deep into LP territory. The TD came with 33 seconds left in the half, and the Titans had monster momentum as they were down by just four at 23-19.
But, like we've said before, not for long. The Dogs got the ball after the ensuing kickoff at their own 30, and Lewis ran for 15 yards. Then Victor Homes, in at quarterback in a sort of Wildcat formation, fired deep to Hoza Scott, the linebacker who was in as a wide receiver. The Titans were flagged for pass interference, and got hit with 15 more yards when they got too boisterous while protesting the call.
That put the ball on the Memorial 25, and Jackson fired left to Britt Grant. He had a convoy of blockers ahead of him, and he was able to scoot into the far left side of the end zone with just 11 seconds left in the half. Another perfect Medina extra-point kick made it 30-19.
The Titans got the ball to start the second half, and they appeared to have a drive going. We haven't mentioned yet that Whitely, one of the finest backs in the history of LPHS, was injured in the second quarter and unable to return to the field - either offensively or defensively. So the Bulldogs needed a big play, and that's what they got.
The talented Memorial quarterback was rushed hard and he tried to throw a pass over the middle. Victor Holmes was there for the interception, and he quickly headed toward the Memorial end zone. He had blockers in front and a strong head of steam, and he weaved his way some 55 yards to paydirt. Medina kicked the extra point and the Bulldogs had 37 points and an 18-point lead with 8:33 left in the third period.
As it turned out, that was it as far as scoring for the Bulldogs, but they did have a couple of key first downs late in the game to keep the ball away from the dangerous Titans.
Defensively, there were some excellent individual efforts on the part of the Dogs down the stretch, but the Titans were able to score with 5:27 left in the third quarter to trim the La Porte lead to 37-26, and they got another touchdown with 10:50 left in the game to pull within four at 37-33.
Remember, now, Mr. Whitely was on the sidelines. But Grant got nine yards from the 18 on the first La Porte play from scrimmage after that last Titan touchdown, and Lewis stepped off 11 yards for a first down, then added six more. He lost two, however, on the next play, but on third down Grant followed more excellent blocking for a first down at the Port Arthur 49.
Lewis then got four, and had a good run of five yards to make it third and one, but he lost three on the next play, making it fourth and four. Coach LaReau decided to try to pull the Titans offsides - and it worked! They bit like a bass on Lake Conroe, and the Bulldogs had another first down, as the clock kept ticking.
The drive stalled, however, so Mr. Medina came on and booted another punt out of bounds inside the five yard line - forcing the Titans to start deep in their own territory with 3:51 left in the game.
They got as far as their own 42, and then the Bulldogs put a clamp on them. Jahvey Mark had a strong defensive effort in the backfield and Hoza Scott made a key tackle, forcing a fourth and 18 after the Titans were flagged for holding. And Corey Lee and Lane Albertson ended the suspense with a huge, monstrous sack that gave the Bulldogs the ball. They managed to run out the clock and claim the big win.
We can't say enough about the blocking up front all night. Credit Jose Garcia and Tony Briones and Michael Leagan and Justin King and Maurice Morris and Jared Howard and Michael Rodriguez for opening some world class holes.
In the end, for the second straight season, the Bulldogs found 21-5A glory -- on the last day of the regular season -- by beating Port Arthur Memorial. And now they begin post-season play with a 9-1 record, a district title, and a No. 1 seed.
But it will be no bed of roses. First, they have to find out whether their Main Man on offense, Mr. Whitely, will be healthy enough to play. And secondly, they will be staring down the barrel at some awfully talented Division II opponents, i.e. Katy and Manvel and Port Arthur and Lake Travis, etc.
You can be sure, however, that no matter the opponent, the Bulldogs are a team absolutely no one wants to have to reckon with - although Katy would likely love to have another crack at them.
And we say - bring 'em on. Bring 'em ALL on!