Pleasant Grove Defense Rises to the Occasion on Biggest Stage
ARLINGTON -- The West Orange-Stark Mustangs came into Friday's Class 4A Division II championship game riding a state-best 40-game winning streak. On the strength of its famed "Chain Gang" defense.
But it was Pleasant Grove that came up with biggest plays on the defensive side of the ball, leading the Hawks to a perfect 16-0 campaign and their first state championship in football.
The Hawks offense got off to a quick start with 14 first-quarter points, but the resounding victory was punctuated with a pair of interception returns for touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The PG defensive performance upstaged a West Orange-Stark defense that entered allowing less than 10 points per game on the year. The 41 points allowed Friday were the most the Mustangs have surrendered since their last defeat, a 42-14 non-district loss to Richmond Foster.
West Orange-Stark (13-1) cut what was a 22-point Pleasant Grove lead to 28-21 with 4:35 remaining, but senior linebacker and Texas Tech commit Xavier Benson ended all hopes of a comeback with a 22-yard pick-six.
The final play of the game was Aaron Harmon's 44-yard interception for a touchdown as time expired.
“It was amazing knowing we closed the game out, looking up at the scoreboard and knowing that we went 16-0," Benson said of his pick-six.
It was one of three interceptions thrown by Mustangs quarterback Chaka Watson.
The first one belonged to Pleasant Grove senior cornerback Cameron Wells in the first half.
“We just wanted to contain the quarterback this week," Wells said. "We basically wanted to force him to throw the ball in the air because (our defensive coaches) do a phenomenal job of putting us in a good position to make plays. They put a ball in the air and I took advantage of it.”
West Orange-Stark was never able to establish the running game, finishing with just 43 rushing yards on 23 carries.
“They’ve been unbelievable this whole year," Pleasant Grove coach Josh Gibson said. "We felt like we were one of the best defenses in the state of Texas, and we know West Orange-Stark has a ton of credibility. To be able to shut them down is something that these guys believed they could do. It’s not necessarily wanting to make a statement, just get the ‘W.’”