Fourteen and counting

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Photo by Kevin Cook
Bruce Garret sweeps around end for a first down against Melissa.

Pleasant Grove dominates Melissa, 55-14

to capture first regional championship

PARIS, Texas – And then there were four, as in final four.

Pleasant Grove locked down the first Region 2 championship in school history with a dominating, 55-14 win over Melissa Friday in front of an enthusiastic crowd that made Wildcat Stadium in Paris feel like home.

It wasn’t as close as the score sounds. The Hawks scored the first six times they touched the ball and three times stopped Melissa on fourth down to knock the stuffing out of a team that came in averaging 45 points a game and had won 12 straight.

TJ Cole

The win puts the Hawks into their first-ever state semifinal. They will face the Graham Steers, 69-41 winners over Bushland, at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Star in Frisco. Both teams are 14-0. Wimberly (13-1), which rallied for 20 fourth-quarter points to drop Cuero and West-Orange Stark (12-0), defending state champs and winners of 28 straight, will meet in the other semifinal.

Complete 4A, Divison II Bracket

At its core, this game was won in the trenches. PG’s Fat Boy Gang shoved Melissa around all night, and that allowed PG to dictate what happened on both sides of the ball.

On offense, the backs and receivers had their way all night. TJ Cole ran for 139 yards and four first-half touchdowns. Chauncey Martin ran for 108 yards and a pair of first-half TDs. Ben Harmon hit on six of eight passes for 127 yards, including a 31-yard TD to Carson Cox, the senior wideout’s 12th of the season which tied a school record.

Xavier Benson

“We all played well,” said Harmon. “The offensive line dominated and that made everything work.”

On defense, the Hawk Headhunters were out in force. They constantly hit, hurried, harassed, and sacked  Melissa’s star quarterback, Brendon Lewis, who threw for 276 yards but connected on only 14 of 38 passes.

Many of his throws were simply slung out of play because his talented receiving corps was covered like pebbles in a hay meadow. When the sophomore quarterback, who this week received an offer from SMU, found time to look downfield, all he saw was the black shirts of the Hawk secondary, and that was the wrong color.

“We are playing great football,” said coach Josh Gibson. “I thought we played well in all three phases of the game. We dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and we were physical.

“Our running backs ran the ball hard. Ben Harmon was accurate and had a great night and Carson Cox was special again. Our defensive line and linebackers played well all night and our secondary produced numerous coverage sacks.”

Ben Harmon

Though Pleasant Grove was the consensus favorite coming into the game, most prognosticators expected a closer contest. After the game, even some of the players said they were surprised at how easy this one was.

“I’m not surprised at how well we played,” said Gibson. “Our kids continue to work hard and we’ve been taking steps each week. The score was amazing.”

It was obvious from the opening bell who the better team was. Pleasant Grove came out throwing haymakers and landed punch, after punch, after punch. Staggered, the Cardinals watched the well-oiled wheels of their pinball offense come off before halftime. The bands didn’t play, but the fat lady started warming up before the hot dogs were reduced to half price.

Chauncey Martin

The Hawks took the opening kickoff and marched 46 yards in just four plays. Cole barreled through the middle of the Cardinal defense three times for 20 yards. Martin hit the middle again from the 34, ripped away from a defender at the 15 and danced into the end zone.

Dillon William’s kick was perfect and PG was up for good, 7-0, less than two minutes into the contest.

The Cardinals answered with an impressive drive, marching from their own 25 to the Hawk 18. The big play turned out to be an ominous foreshadowing of the rest of the Melissa quarterback’s night: Flushed under intense pressure, he broke loose for 27 yards.

It was one of the few times the big sophomore escaped relentless pressure from the Hawk Headhunters. A defensive holding and a couple of completions got the Cardinals to the 18. On fourth-and-six, with Landon Jackson breathing down his neck and his receivers covered like corpses at a closed-casket funeral, Lewis lofted the ball out of the back of the end zone.

Carson Cox

The next time the Cardinals reached the red zone, they were down by five touchdowns.

After a penalty, the Hawks took just six plays to march 87 yards. Harmon got the Hawks out of the hole by soaring a rainbow over the outside shoulder of wideout Carson Cox as he raced down the right sideline. Cox wrestled the ball away from the defender for 31 yards and a first down at the Melissa 49.

“On that pass, the coaches tell me to keep it high and outside, and keep it away from the safety and Carson will make the play,” Harmon said.

Two plays later, Martin hit the middle again, muscled out of the grasp of a linebacker and dragged defenders to the 1. Cole blasted through the middle to make 14-0 with 5:25 to play in the first.

The Headhunters gave Melissa a minus-3 yards on the Cardinals’ next possession. A short punt put the Hawk offense in business at the Melissa 45.

Runs by Cole, Martin, Luke Harmon and Bruce Garrett got the Hawks to the 34.  Harmon, standing calmly in a pocket without pressure, again found Cox open, hitting the senior in the right flat for 25 yards.

Cole barreled through the middle for nine yards and the score to make 20-0 with 46 seconds remaining in the first stanza.

The onslaught continued in the second quarter.

Xavier Benson and Jackson again put the heat on Lewis and the Cardinal offense was back on the sideline after just three plays.

The Hawks mounted a seven-play, 65-yard drive capped by a 16-yard bull rush up the middle by Cole, who was swarmed by a flock of Cardinals at the 5 and then shoved into the end zone by a kettle of Hawks.

Stuck in the middle of the swarm, with his guys out-muscling the other guys, Benson said at that point he was just along for the ride.

“You keep your feet moving,” he said. “That’s all you can do.”

A sack by Jackson and pressure from Benson brought about another three-and-out. The Hawks needed just two plays to make it 34-0. Cole hit the middle again and this time looked like a bull running through kindergarteners to go 45 yards to the 2.

From there, Martin headed around the left side, where Cox walled off the pursuit with a textbook block. Martin walked in. Literally.

The Cardinals finally got on the board when Lewis hit Tate Whittington on a slant route for a 51-yard gain to the Hawk 15. Three plays later, Lewis scrambled away from pressure and found a lane to score from 14 yards out with 3:27 left in the half.

PG promptly answered with a nine-play, 64-yard run. Bruce Garrett chipped in three solid runs, Harmon hit Cox for 14 yards and a first down and Cole finished it with an 8-yard sprint up the gut to make it 41-7 at the half.

In the third quarter, the Cardinals caught a break when Lewis scrambled away from pressure and found Cole McGraw all alone behind the secondary for a 71-yard gain to the Hawk four.

Four plays later, on fourth-and-goal from the two, Lewis considered running to his left, saw the hole closing and zipped a pass toward McGraw in the corner of the end zone. Aaron Harmon came flying over and, at the last moment, batted the pass away.

Late in the third, Lewis found Whittington for a five-yard TD pass. The Hawks answered in five plays. One was a 19-yard sweep around the right side by Garrett. The final was a 22-yard jet sweep for the score by Josh Roberts.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Harmon spotted Cox three steps behind the secondary and hit him for the final score.

At a community pep rally Thursday, Gibson joked that every week he teaches his players to count to a higher number. Now that they can count to 14, can they learn to count to 15?

“15-0 is this week’s goal,” he said. “We accomplish that, and the ultimate goal, the one we’ve been working to achieve for four years, is still in play.”

Melissa 0 7 0 7 14
PG 20 21 7 7 55

 

Melissa Pleasant Grove
18 First Downs 20
29-150 Rush att-yards 52-370
14-38-0 — 248 PC-PA-I Yards 6-8-0 — 127
398 Net offense 497
6-57 Penalties-yards 4-32
3-1 Fumbles-lost 0-0
4-32.3 Punts-Average 2-44.0

 

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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.