Hawks 10-0 district champions

Photo by Bill Owney Pleasant Grove players and coaches celebrate the school's fourth-ever district championship and first-ever 10-0 regular season.

PG finishes first undefeated season in style

Photo by Kevin Cook
PG tight end Xavier Benson stiff arms a defender en route to a 30-yard TD reception Friday.

Look out Texas High School football playoffs, here come the Pleasant Grove Hawks.

Looking every bit like a team tuning up for a deep playoff run, PG closed out the school’s first-ever undefeated regular season and nailed down sole possession of the District 7-4A, Division II, crown, by steamrolling Gladewater 50-7 Friday night at a packed Hawk field.

This one was over early. Sophomore quarterback Ben Harmon connected on five of his first six passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns to send the Bears sprawling to the mat early and often as the Hawks built a 41-7 halftime lead.

The first haymaker came with 7:55 remaining in the first round, when the Hawks, backed up to their own 10, faked a first-down jet sweep to bring the Gladewater safeties crashing in. Harmon calmly set his feet and fired a line drive to Carson Cox, who was racing two steps behind the secondary. The senior wideout kicked in the afterburners and sprinted into the end zone untouched.

To hear Harmon tell it, anybody could have made the play.

Photo by Kevin Cook
Pleasant Groves Carson Cox readies to haul in his second long touchdown pass from Ben Harmon, this one for 50 yards, in a 50-7 win over Gladewater Friday night

“I know if I get the ball anywhere near Carson, he’s going to go get it,” said the signal caller. “The line is great, they give me so much time to sit back there and read the coverages.”

Ninety seconds later, the two hooked up on the same play again, this time from 60 yards out, and the rout was on. The home crowd could sit back, relax and enjoy watching history unfold on the field.

After the game, PG coach Josh Gibson called his players together and held high the District Championship trophy – the fourth in the school’s 34 years of football.

“Be careful about picking your wives. Make sure you pick one who likes to come home,” he told his team, “because we will be back here in 25 years. We’ll be back here in 50 years.”

Since the middle of last season, the Hawks have won 16 of 17 games, the setback a four-point loss to Celina in the third round of the 2016 playoffs. Gladewater coach John Berry said he thinks PG is a legitimate threat to play for all the marbles in Cowboy Stadium the week before Christmas.

“I’ve seen this coming for a couple of years,” Berry said. “I’ve been saying since early this year that this is the best team in our region, and we’ve seen over the years that best team in this region often wins it all.

Photo by Bill Owney
Pleasant Grove coach Josh Gibson tells his players they have just made history by completing the school’s first-ever undefeated regular season with a 50-7 win over Gladewater.

“This is a solid team and the coaches do a great job with them. Josh Gibson and his staff are a class act. I hope the people of Pleasant Grove appreciate what they have.”

Gibson, who has praised his players for focus and effort since off-season workouts, categorized an undefeated season as a logical outcome.

“To be where we are right now is special, and they deserve everything they’re getting,” he said. “We played really good football tonight. We came out fast, with a lot of intensity, and that’s something we’ve been working on. I’m proud of the way they play as a team and the way they represent our community.”

Senior defensive end Xavier Benson, who endured a heartbreaking loss in Gladewater two years ago, understood the moment.

“This shows how much we have grown as a team and personally, as individuals,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade

being a member of this team for anything in this world. These guys are like my brothers, I love it so much.”

Benson, who has been part of a couple of playoff runs in basketball, said he will share lessons learned from those experiences with his football brothers.

“I’ll tell them not to take anything for granted,” he said. “Every game could be your last.”

Pleasant Grove played with that sort of urgency Friday.

Photo by Kevin Cook
Hawk defensive tackle Austin Toler flattens Gladewater’s Tristan Seahorn as the PG defense traps quarterback Robert Hodges behind the line.

Led by a series of big hits by Benson, Austin Toler, Caleb Porchia and freshman sensation Landon Jackson – all backed by a swarming defense — Hawks forced three three-and-outs and forced four punts in the first half, holding the Bears to just 79 yards offense before intermission.

Another punt never got off, thanks to a bad snap from the PG 31. A madcap scramble of bodies, hands  and arms ensued and, when the pile was unstacked, Porchia was found to be clutching the ball – in the end zone.

Touchdown was the belated signal from the refs. It was one of four Bear turnovers.

In the meantime, the Hawk offense was in high gear, thanks in part to consistently good field position, courtesy of the defense.

A short field, at the Bear 40, set up 27-yard scamper around the left side by Bruce (rhymes with deuce) Garrett to put the ball at the 19. From there, TJ Cole sprinted through a nicely blocked seam on the right side, sliced between a pair of defenders at the 6, and trotted into the end zone.

Ben Harmon, one of three Harmon brothers on the team, found big brother Aaron on a flag route on the left side for his third TD pass of the half.

“I knew if I caught I would score,” Aaron Harmon said, “and I knew I would catch it.”

Down 34-0, Gladewater managed to put together a 12-play, 75-yard drive to make it 34-7 with 1:37 left in the half. Berry called for an onside kick, but that didn’t work out so well. The Hawks covered it at midfield.

PG players stand for National Anthem.

The next play, Ben Harmon hit Benson running a tight-end seam down the middle for a 50-yard score.

The first play from scrimmage in the second half was essentially the Bear’s last gasp. The Hawk defensive line forced a fumble and safety Caleb Hemphill dove into the mass of pads, feet and flesh to grab the ball.

On the next play, Chauncey Martin swept around the left side, ran through a linebacker and juked a pair of defensive backs for a 21-yard score.

A few minutes later, the Hawks drove from their 38 to the Bear 2, thanks mainly to a 34-yard counter up the gut from Duece, er, Bruce Garrett. That set up a 19-yard field goal by Dillon Williams to close out the scoring at 50-7 with 2:48 left in the third round.

With the opponent out on his feet, Gibson began inserting reserves.

The Hawks will play a bi-district match against Tatum in Tatum Friday at 7 p.m. (not 7:30). The Eagles (3-7, 1-3), beat Huntington (1-9), 42-13 Friday to grab fourth place in District 8-4A.

Playoff bracket

“We only get one game at a time,” Gibson said. “We’re going to fight tooth and nail and hope we can earn another.

Gladewater        0              7              0              0  – 7

Pleasant Grove 21           20           9              0 – 50

Gladewater   Pleasant Grove
13 First downs 9
45-128 Rush-yards 19-155
4-10-0 – 74 PC-PA-I – yds 4-6-0 – 236
202 Total offense 391
3-3 Fumbles-lost 0-0
6-3 2.3 Punts-avg. 2-42.5
4-32 Penalties-yds 3-26
Photo by Bill Owney
The Pleasant Grove marching band entertains the crowd at halftime
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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.