Notebook: Pleasant Grove’s 7-On-7 Squad Breezes Through Pool Play + Palestine Makes Big Comeback
COLLEGE STATION — You might not think Pleasant Grove needs to participate in the State 7-on-7 Tournament with a fine history utilizing the Wing-T offense under head coach Josh Gibson. And even if the school’s team made the tournament, you might think it would be an easy out against so many high-flying Texas offenses.
The Hawks are in Central Texas to prove you wrong on all fronts.
Pool B competition in the Division II tournament at College Station’s Veterans Park and Athletic Complex concluded Thursday evening. Pleasant Grove finished 3-0 in the standings with a 33-18 win against Pecos, a 59-12 victory versus Hildago and a 48-18 drubbing of the esteemed El Campo program.
“This is going to open up our offense,” senior running back and slot receiver T.J. Cole said. “We’re mainly a running team, but we can throw it whenever we want to because we’re looking pretty good right now.”
Things started looking up for the Hawks football team, overshadowed by one of the state’s most successful baseball programs, before the offseason began. It made the Class 4A Division I state playoffs for a third consecutive season last year despite being realigned into a district also featuring Atlanta, Gilmer, Gladewater, Pittsburg and Spring Hill.
Each of the three seasons showed incremental improvement.
A dismantling by Gilmer in the first round of the 2014 playoffs turned into a close game against the same Buckeyes in the same game the next season. Then, last year, the Hawks survived their new district, reached the regional semifinal round of competition and gave defending state champion Celina a tough game.
But key pieces from those teams are gone, including quarterback Carson Cox.
Enter sophomore signal-caller Ben Harmon. He threw six touchdown passes in the El Campo game alone.
“It’s been fun,” Harmon said. “It’s good to come out here against a bunch of other state qualifiers and compete. That’s all we want to do. We worked hard to get here, and we deserve what’s happening.”
Of course, a Xavier Benson led defense factors into the equation.
The senior linebacker with a flagship offer from Texas Tech helped Pleasant Grove to three three-and-outs and seven stops against an El Campo squad that went 11-1 in 2016.
“We’ve put a lot of effort in,” Benson said. “The stuff that we’ve been putting in on a daily basis makes us feel like we deserve it. There’s no sense of entitlement here. I feel like we’re one of the hardest working teams in the state and deserve everything we get here.”
Pleasant Grove will face Mexia in its first Division II championship bracket tournament game today at 9 a.m. Mexia went 2-8 the past football season.
Class 4A Division I state runner-up Abilene Wylie will probably be waiting in the second round.
Palestine and San Augustine also sit on the Hawks’ side of the bracket as does the powerhouse Argyle program. Carthage, Graham, Navasota and El Campo are the most recognized groups on the opposite side of the bracket.
Gilmer, the only other District 7-4A Division II member competing at the state level, stumbled to an 0-3 record as a member of Pool G with China Spring, Hardin-Jefferson and Sonora. It will play in the Division II consolation bracket, which begins today at 8 a.m.
“It’s nice to see competition from everywhere,” Benson said. “All we want is competition, and that’s something we’ve gotten so far. We want more. That’s who we are. We’re going to take it game-by-game and play for as long as we can.”
Palestine’s Big Comeback Helps Squad Make Championship Bracket
The Wildcats’ opening day in College Station could not have gotten off to a worse start.
Lorena built a three-touchdown lead before Palestine even mustered a first down, and it seemed a safe bet Lorena would get an early upper hand on Pool N. But there’s a reason 7-on-7 games don’t have a mercy rule.
Palestine stormed back for a 33-31 victory and ultimately posted a 2-1 record. The Wildcats made the Division II championship bracket alongside Brownwood and Lorena eventually dropped to the consolation bracket with a 1-2 mark.
“We usually don’t start off very good in the first half for whatever reason,” senior receiver T.J. Dever said. “But the defense usually helps pick it up for us. When the defense comes through, our offense usually ends up matching the tempo. We were rolling in momentum after the first half.”
First-year starting quarterback Tyler Gray threw five touchdown passes. Dever and sophomore running back Jeremiah Davis caught two scores apiece.
Palestine scored the game’s final three touchdowns. It trailed 31-13 beforehand.
Lorena still owned a 31-27 advantage under the six-minute mark of the second half and drove a quarter of the way down the 45-yard field in pursuit of upping its lead back to two possessions. Middle linebacker Roderick Deyon came up with the contest’s sole interception and put the Wildcats 45 yards away from the potential win.
An interception can be returned for a touchdown, but an interception that does not result in a score simply gives the defensive team and offensive possession at the top of the field.
Davis’ second scoring reception, which he initially dropped in the end zone and spun to recover, gave Palestine its first and only lead with about four minutes to play.
“I just felt like we had to win,” Davis said of his second effort. “How hard we’ve worked for this, and I saw we had been picked to finish fourth in our pool, we just had to come out and get the W.”
The squad went on to defeat Goliad and then lost to Brownwood by one point in its final contest.
Davis and company will face San Augustine today at 9 a.m. in their first-round game of championship bracket competition.
Palestine made the championship bracket of the state tournament last season, but it got bounced out of the first round.
“We really didn’t know what we were going to face the last time we were here,” Dever said. “This year, we have a little experience advantage. We know what we have to do to advance.”
Martin Makes Debut As Canton’s QB
Hunter Moore was a multi-sport star with a particularly big impact on the Canton football team. He threw for 2,336 yards and 29 touchdowns to 11 interceptions last season and also eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in his final go-around.
Junior quarterback McGwire Martin made his most high-profile start to date Thursday through Canton’s Pool M stint and led the Eagles squad to a 1-2 record.
The new man under center turned in four touchdowns in a 25-7 win against Glen Rose sandwiched around losses to Cuero and Lexington.
“It’s tough position to be in, replacing Hunter, but we’re lucky we have great receivers,” Martin said. “I just have to do my job throwing. We’re definitely forming good team chemistry and have been working this summer on our strength and speed. We practice for 7-on-7 about twice a week, but, when we’re not practicing, we’re always there on our own.”
Martin completed 25 of 41 passes in the Glen Rose win. Cooper Smith recorded a team-best two receiving touchdowns.
Canton will get more reps today in its first-round consolation bracket game against Levelland at 8 a.m. Gilmer will join the Eagles in the consolation competition, and the two teams would collide in the quarterfinal round.
“It’s been a fun experience,” Martin said. “Knowing people drove this far to play a sport we all love, it’s fun. I love competition and we love the competition we’re facing.”