Pleasant Grove Wins First State Championship, 41-21
ARLINGTON-- Josh Gibson smiled as his eyes started to turn red.
Aaron Harmon ran straight from the end zone to the sideline as time expired after he intercepted Chaka Watson's pass with only seconds remaining. A jubilant group of teammates awaited him.
Pleasant Grove was the clear underdog in a matchup with West Orange Stark, but one would never have known from watching the game. The Hawks were in control from the first play on their way to claiming their first football state championship. They defeated the Mustangs, 41-21, in the Class 4A Division II game at AT&T Stadium.
“I think it’s extra special for our community and East Texas in general," Gibson said. "They’ve been so supportive. There’s been a big following for these guys with coaches from our district and players. East Texas really gets behind you, so we’re thankful to do this for our Pleasant Grove community. We’re thankful to win a state title in Texarkana and put PG up on that map.”
Adding to the significance of the moment, Gibson's brother, Justin, is the offensive coordinator for the Hawks. His father, Vance, is the coach at Frisco. To have his brother on the sideline and his father watching is something he will never forget.
“To have my mentor, my dad, my father, my hero, somebody that I wanted to grow up and be like on the sidelines, it feels great as a son," he said. "‘Are you proud of me, dad?’ That kind of thing. I’m still a boy to him so it’s special.”
The victory snapped West Orange Stark's 40-game win streak, previously the longest active streak in the state. It prevented the Mustangs from claiming a third straight title. Mustang coach Cornel Thompson, who has won two championships as the head, said the first one holds a special place.
“There’s no other feeling," he said. "You want another one and you want another one. And I’m a greedy booger, I wanted another one (this year).”
Pleasant Grove took control early after TJ Cole caught a pass and ran 75 yards for a touchdown on the first play. Against a vaunted West Orange Stark defense that allowed only 9.1 points per game, it was a statement.
“I just knew that when coach called that play," he said. "I had to make a big play for my team to put us in a great position to have a great tempo to set the game. I couldn’t have done it without my line, my quarterback and coach Gibson’s play calling."
The Mustangs answered with a touchdown drive of their own after their first two drives ended in punts. Kayven Cooper capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, but the extra point was missed and Pleasant Grove still held the lead.
The Hawks scored the next three touchdowns, including two more from Cole, the Offensive MVP, to go up 28-6 with 10:02 left. West Orange Stark would fight until the end, though.
The Mustangs scored on the ensuing drive when Blake Robinson shed a tackler on his way to a 44-yard touchdown reception from Watson. They connected again on the 2-point conversion and with a little more than eight minutes remaining, it was a two-touchdown deficit.
West Orange Stark forced a three-and-out from Pleasant Grove to get the ball back. It started the drive with a 32-yard pass to Jarron Morris to get into Hawk territory. Once again, Robinson capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown reception.
Pleasant Grove whittled the clock down to 33 seconds on its next drive, but missed a field goal to give the Mustangs a final chance. Two plays into the drive, Xavier Benson intercepted Watson and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown, effectively sealing the victory.
When Gibson took the job at Pleasant Grove four years ago, he made a trip to the middle school to talk to the football team.
"Guys, if you buy in and you do everything we ask you to do, you put your heart and soul in it, we could be playing for a state title," he told them.
The Hawks lose a lot of players to graduation next year. Cole, who finished with 188 total yard and three touchdowns, is gone. Carson Cox, the school's leader in receiving touchdowns, is gone. As are Benson and Caleb Porchia.
A new era begins next season, but this one couldn't have ended in better fashion.
“I’m extremely proud for these guys," Gibson said. "To see them buy into the program in the way that they did … our theme was heart and soul, and they put their heart and soul into the program.”
Pleasant Grove 41, West Orange Stark 21
Class 4A Division II Championship
At AT&T Stadium, Arlington
West Orange Stark 6 0 0 15 -- 21
Pleasant Grove 14 7 0 20 -- 41
PG--TJ Cole 75 pass from Ben Harmon (Dillon Williams kick), 11:50.
WOS--Kayven Cooper 3 run (kick failed), 5:22.
PG--Cole 34 pass from Harmon (Williams kick), 0:44.
PG--Cole 6 run (Williams kick), 1:04.
PG--Bruce Garrett 4 run (Williams kick), 10:02.
WOS--Jarron Morris 44 pass from Chaka Watson (2-point Morris pass from Watson), 8:25.
WOS--Blake Robinson 3 pass from Watson (Chad Dallas kick), 4:35.
PG--Xavier Benson 22 interception return (Williams kick), 0:15.
PG--Aaron Harmon 44 interception return, 0:00.
First Downs 13 11
Total Yards 283 359
Rushes-Yards 23-43 41-111
Passing Yards 240 248
Comp.-Att.-Int. 8-32-3 9-14-0
Punts-Avg. 5-43.2 6-37.5
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-0
Penalties-Yards 4-32 4-22
RUSHING--West Orange Stark, Kayven Cooper 5-25, Chaka Watson 13-9, Herzel Washington 1-6, Justin Silbey 3-4, Jarron Morris 1-(-1). Pleasant Grove, TJ Cole 22-81, Chauncey Martin 5-22, Bruce Garrett 8-15, Josh Roberts 2-6, Ben Harmon 3-(-3), Team 1-(-13).
PASSING--West Orange Stark, Watson 18-31-3--240, Morris 0-1-0--0. Pleasant Grove, Harmon 9-14-0--248.
RECEIVING--West Orange Stark, Jarron Morris 3-85, Blake Robinson 3-24, Deiondr'e Hawthorn 2-29, Kayven Cooper 2-25, Mark Thibodeaux 2-14, Justin Silbey 2-10, Jaylon Mims 1-24, Renaldo Rose 1-4. Pleasant Grove, Xavier Benson 4-114, TJ Cole 3-107, Carson Cox 2-27.