ARLINGTON, Texas- Playing in their first state title game, Texarkana Pleasant Grove faced an unbeaten West Orange-Stark squad looking to cap off an incredible four-year run by capturing their third consecutive state title while extending their 40-game win streak.
However, the Hawks rode strong defensive efforts and the big-play ability of their offense to dethrone the Mustangs 41-21 at AT&T Stadium on Friday afternoon.
“This is awesome. I’m extremely proud of these guys and that’s what it’s all about,” Texarkana Pleasant Grove head coach Josh Gibson said after the game, “It’s about these guys and to see them buy into the program the way that they did and our theme, which is heart and soul and they put their heart and soul into the program. I couldn’t be more proud of them, more proud for them and I’m just extremely excited.”
Clinging to a slight 28-21 lead with 28 seconds to go, Pleasant Grove tried to put the game on ice in their hopes to down West Orange-Stark with a 40-yard field goal. The field goal would be missed however and give West Orange-Stark an opportunity to tie the game with 28 seconds left deep in their territory.
Texas Tech commit Xavier Benson would deliver the knockout punch however as he nabbed a 22-yard interception return for a touchdown that ousted any late comeback attempt for West Orange-Stark and gave Pleasant Grove the 35-21 advantage and have Pleasant Grove well on their way to a victory.
Not to be outdone by his defensive teammate, Aaron Harmon would tack on one more interception return for a touchdown the ensuing drive as the clock hit zero to put the final tally at 41-21.
“We felt like we were one of the best defenses in the state of Texas and we knew West Orange-Stark had a ton of credibility,” Gibson said, “they played so well, they do it every year but to be able to shut them down, this is something these guys believed they could do and talked about all week…our defense has been unbelievable this year and helped us a great deal today.”
Defensively, Pleasant Grove gave West Orange-Stark fits all afternoon as they held their offense to 283 total yards and only allowed West Orange-Stark to finish 2 of 11 on third down attempts.
Pleasant Grove finished with three defensive interceptions with two resulting in touchdowns and a team total of three sacks with two of them coming from freshman Landon Jackson.
“After the first sack, that was the happiest I’ve been in a long time,” Jackson said after the game, “That was one of the biggest moments of my season. After the second one, I felt like I could do anything.”
Meanwhile, the Pleasant Grove Wing-T offense was just as effective giving the Mustangs “Chain Gang” defense problems. The opening play from scrimmage proved that no stage was too big for the Hawks as quarterback Ben Harmon on a play action jet sweep found wide receiver TJ Cole for his first of three touchdowns on the afternoon as the 75-yard score put Pleasant Grove on the board only 10 seconds into the game.
After both teams held each other to three-and-outs, West Orange-Stark running back Kayven Cooper would score on a 3-yard run to get the Mustangs on the board and make it 7-6 Hawks following a missed extra point.That would be the only points scored for West Orange Stark until the fourth quarter as they entered the final frame with a 21-6 deficit.
Offensive MVP TJ Cole, who finished with 107 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions while rushing for 81 yard and a score, would score on a 34-yard touchdown reception and a 6-yard run to give Pleasant Grove their 21-point mark. Running Back Bruce Garrett scored on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter with 10:02 left to play to place Pleasant Grove up 28-6.
Never a team to be counted out, West Orange-Stark commenced a rally effort in their quest for a three-peat. Quarterback Chaka Watson connected with Jarron Morris to cut the deficit to 28-14 with 8:25 to go.
The Mustang defense stiffened up and forced 3-and-out to give their offense a chance. Chaka Watson would once again lead a scoring drive that only took 2:13 and that twisted the game into a more competitive tale with a 28-21 score with 4:35 remaining.
Pleasant Grove would turn to their 4-minute drill and following the aforementioned missed field goal attempt, would give the ball back with only 28 seconds left to finish the game and put the exclamation point on Pleasant Grove’s perfect and historic season.
“I think it’s extra special for our community and East Texas in general,” Gibson reflected on the win, “They’ve been so supportive…We are thankful to do this for our Pleasant Grove community and to win a state title in Texarkana and put PG up on that map.”
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