Demon, begone

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Texas High School Football Playoffs
Photo by Kevin Cook The Hawk defense closes in on Celina's Logan Point.

Hawk defense

shuts down Celina

 

SULPHUR SPRINGS – Time to put that demon to rest.

Facing the squad that knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago, a team they had never beaten, the Pleasant Grove Hawks throttled Celina, 33-14 to add a regional semifinal championship to their trophy case, run their record to 13-0, and move into the state quarterfinals for only the second time in school history.

Though senior tailback Chauncey Martin, who rushed for 116 yards and three TDs will get the headlines, this one belonged to the defense. Celina, which came in averaging more than 35 points a game, was held to less than 100 yards, most of those on a meaningless drive late in the game.

“We played a great football game in all three phases of the game,” said coach Josh Gibson. “It was one of our most complete games of the season and it came against a good team. We had to play that well to for the scoreboard to look that way at the end.

Texas football
Photo by Kevin Cook
Carson Cox, left, brings in play to quarterback Ben Harmon and the Hawk huddle.

“This was one of the hardest played games we’ve had all season. It’s the third round of the playoffs and every team is good.”

Though Celina could not keep up offensively, the Bobcat defense matched PG’s in intensity, holding PG well below its averages in yards and scoring. Three times Celina forced the Hawks to turn the ball over on downs.

Mutual respect

“They’re a fast, physical team,” said PG quarterback Ben Harmon, who managed to complete six of nine passes for 105 yards, a touchdown and a handful of critical first downs despite being sacked twice and frequently scrambling under pressure. “They play hard, they pursue the football and they had a good defensive scheme. They’re well-coached.”

Celina’s solid coaching showed even in the post-game handshakes when nearly every Bobcat congratulated the Hawks and wished them success next week. The mutual respect and warmth were apparent.

Texarkana Pleasant Grove
Photo by Kevin Cook
Landon Jackson causes a fumble against Celina

Up next

That game will come against a foe familiar to Celina, District 5-4A champion Melissa, 12-1, which scored 15 unanswered, fourth-quarter points to beat Gilmer, 35-23. The Region II final, which is also a state quarterfinal, will be played at 7 p.m. Friday night at Wildcat Stadium in Paris. This will mark the first time a Pleasant Grove team has played a 14th game in a season. The 2009 team received a first-round bye and advanced to the quarterfinals, where it lost to Pittsburg and finished 10-3. That is the deepest playoff run a PG has made and, before this year, the most wins ever for the school.

After losing its season-opener to Argyle Christian, 21-14, Melissa has ripped off a school-record 12 straight wins. The Cardinals beat Celina, 35-14, in district play on Oct. 27.

Hard-nosed game

Pleasant Grove prides itself on smash-mouth football, and that’s exactly how the Hawks answered the opening bell. PG took the opening kickoff and smartly marched 67 yards for a score in just six plays.

Bruce Garrett ripped off runs of 19 and 15 yards – another of 18 was negated by a holding penalty – to put the Hawks in the red zone. On first down from the 19, Harmon lofted a pass over the outside shoulder of Carson Cox, who had a step on the defender in the left flat, for the score.

Photo by Kevin Cook
Wideout Carson Cox checks with the referee to ensure that he is on-sides.

Pinned at their own 15 after the kickoff, Celina came out lined up in its most effective formation, the “Dead-T,” a raw-power alignment in which three backs are lined up closely behind eight beefy blockers. Few teams are able to stop it.

On first down, Celina’s Logan Point was smothered for a one-yard gain. The same thing happened on second down. After an incomplete pass, quarterback Noah Ross dropped back to punt. Xavier Benson blew into the backfield and blocked the punt, which rolled out the back of the end zone to make it 9-0 with 8:01 still to play in the first quarter.

The rest of the first half was a defensive donnybrook.

The ensuing kick gave the Hawks the ball at midfield, but a holding call wiped out a big gainer on a screen pass and a sack on fourth down gave the Bobcats the ball at the 49.

On first down for the Bobcats, Caleb Porchia crushed quarterback Ross, knocking the ball loose. Drake Fowler came up with the ball for the Hawks. PG drove to the Bobcat 15, before turning the ball over on downs again.

Photo by Kevin Cook
Chauncey Martin picks up yardage against Celina.

Things went like that for a while. Celina closed it to 9-7 early in the second quarter after it recovered a fumble at the Hawk 8. Ross called his own number, faking a run to the left and reversing field to score from six yards out.

That turned out to be the Bobcats’ only first down in the first two quarters. When the two teams headed to the locker rooms, Celina had a net of 19 yards.

One play later, Martin hit the corner around left end, juked one defender, stepped out of a tackle and somehow stayed in bounds as he sprinted down the sideline for a 67-yard TD run.

Pleasant Grove grabbed command for good early in the third quarter, forcing a punt on the Bobcats’ first possession and taking over at their own 21. On second-and-14, Harmon hit Benson in stride on a crossing route for 47 yards.

The pass was a little low, but the senior tight end reached out for it and turned upfield.

“I knew I would get it,” Benson said. “If it’s anywhere near me, I know I can go get it.”

Two plays later, on third-and-10, Martin slashed through a gaping hole between right tackle and end and sprinted in from 26 yards out to make it 23-7. The play is called 48 sweep.

Texas High School Football
Photo by Kevin Cook
Bruce Garrett fights for yardage near the Celina goal line.

“I had really good blocking,” said Martin, who would add his third score of the night, from three yards out, midway through the fourth period.

“It feels good,” Martin said. “We just made history and it feels great.”

TJ Cole added 75 yards on 16 carries, and Bruce Garrett had 69 yards on 13 carries. Placekicker Dillon Williams was perfect on all four of his point-after tries and literally bisected the goal posts with a 25-yard field goal that would have been good from 25 yards further out.

The Hawk defense was relentless. Freshman linebacker Landon Jackson, who batted down two passes, spent so much time in the Bobcat backfield that it’s surprising they didn’t make a spot for him in the huddle. Fowler, Nick Gavriel, and Austin Toler smothered the Celina running game, holding the Bobcats to just 53 yards on 26 carries.

Dream lives on

If this was the biggest win in school history, it sets up what may well be the most important game ever next week.

“What this means is that we get to spend another week together, another week of practicing together, another week of working together,” Gibson said. “We got pretty emotional talking about this before the game. We don’t want it to end.”

Celina 0 7 0 7 –          14
Pleasant Grove 9 7 10 7 –          33

 

Celina Pleasant Grove
7 First Downs 18
26-53 Rush-Yards 52-281
7-15-0 – 36 PC-PA-PI-Yards 6-9-0 – 104
89 Net offense 385
2-1 Fumbles-lost 2-1
3-28 Penalties-yards 7-65
6—30.7 Punts-average 2 – 33.0
Regional Champions
The 2017 region champs celebrate their victory
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A veteran journalist and educator, Bill Owney is a 1980 graduate of the University of Florida. Writing awards include APME honors for investigative reporting, the Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Award for public service reporting and numerous awards for editorial, column and news writing. He served as publisher of the Atlanta Citizens Journal and Pittsburg Gazette when each paper won sweepstakes awards from the Texas Press and North and East Texas Press Associations. He spent 15 years as a public school teacher and is an adjunct professor of English at Texarkana College.