Groveton Continues to Light Up the Scoreboard As It Heads Toward a District Championship
Anyone who is familiar with East Texas high school football knows Groveton has quite the history.
It's a program with six state championship game appearances and three championships. A program with more 10-win seasons than losing ones. A program long heralded for having a punishing, dynamic running game.
When it comes to that last part, not anymore.
Brandon Craus took over the storied Groveton program in 2014 with a spread offense playbook in his pocket and the mindset to bring something new to a team long built on running the football.
"What I basically told our guys when I took this job was this, 'The people who are most successful in life are the ones who take change, see it for good and don't fight it,'" Craus said. "I met (former Nebraska coach) Tom Osborne one time and it's strange to hear a coach who throws 50 times a game always quote Tom Osborne, but he told me to do the right thing for my program and do what our kids do best."
What Groveton does best these days is throw the ball, catch the ball and put the ball in the end zone. It's still eyebrow-raising to see the kind of numbers the Indians put up when you know Groveton's history with names like Rodney Thomas in the record books.
Groveton, averaging 53.7 points per game, has scored more than any team in East Texas so far this season. Its quarterback, Glenn Thornton, has thrown for 2,297 yards with 23 touchdowns and three interceptions (and has run for 926 yards and 14 scores) despite missing almost three full games and the Indians have East Texas' third- and fourth-leading receivers in Saul Chavez (50 catches, 1,105 yards, 17 TDs) and Dawson Chumley (58 catches, 1,057 yards, 14 TDs).
"We might have five receivers on one side with no running backs or receivers on the other and the next play we might have two running backs behind Glenn," Craus said. "When you go to a real open type of offense it invigorates everybody. They're always throwing the ball to each other, so it's natural. It's a natural progression."
Just like Rodney Thomas dominates the rushing part of Groveton's record books, the passing part now belongs to Thornton. He has the top eight spots for passing yards in a game, not to mention career records for attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. The top 10 spots for receiving yards in a game belong to either Chavez or Chumley.
The only other Groveton player in history to throw five touchdowns in a game was Haden Terry, who did it on Sept. 23 against Normangee while filling in for an injured Thornton.
"I've coached two PARADE All-Americans and I've coached the shortest quarterback to ever make all-state and Glenn might be the best I've ever coached," Craus said. "He's different than anything I've seen. A lot of dual-threat QBs have happy feet and want to take off in an instant, but he doesn't. He's like a nightmare."
Thornton might be a nightmare to other teams, but he's certainly a dream come true for Groveton in his final season. He's coming off a 504-yard, four-touchdown passing effort last week in the Indians' 34-27 win over Centerville that not only earned Thornton ETSN.fm's Offensive Player of the Week honors, but put his team in the driver's seat for the district title.
"From where we started out to now has been a great journey. To beat a team like Centerville you have to be physical on the lines. The difference between last year and this year has been our ability to control the trenches and we met the challenge, to say the least," Craus said. "Our kids have been playing excellent."
Groveton (8-1, 4-0 in District 12-2A Division I) has won six in a row since a 58-54 loss to San Augustine on Sept. 9, a game that Thornton had to leave in the first quarter because of an injury. The Indians have since pitched three shutouts and haven't allowed more than 27 points in a game, and that was last week.
"It was the first time since I've been in Groveton that we've won and scored under 49 points," Craus quipped. "We had opportunities to widen the gap early on but we turned the ball over four times and didn't score twice in the red zone. It's very hard to overcome that and win, but our kids fought all the way through, came up with some big plays and our defense played excellent."
Now the Indians are looking to Lovelady on Friday night, where a win gives them the outright district championship and the top seed in the postseason. But Craus completely disregarded any talk of the playoffs at this point.
"Coaches are big on cliches and I am too, but we always say this game is the most important one because it's the next one. It's the only one where we can control the outcome," Craus said. "We don't share very well down here in Groveton, so we want that district championship for ourselves."