The Port Arthur News
GALENA PARK —
There can be only one…
…undefeated team in District 21-5A after this week. That’s because Port Arthur Memorial will be putting its 6-0 record on the line by traveling to 5-0 North Shore for a district showdown of Titanic proportions.
With a bye next week, the Titans will be putting plenty of time into making this a statement game, trying to win that elusive district championship which slipped past them the last two seasons. In addition, the Titans and Mustangs have played each other tough in almost every matchup over the last few sesaons.
This series has seen it all. The last three years have been decided by a touchdown or less, with Memorial’s 7-6 win in the rain and mud in 2009. But, in 2008, North Shore handed the Titans their biggest loss in school history, a 66-7 drubbing at Galena Park ISD Stadium.
What we know this season is that North Shore has put up a very solid first half of 2012. In non-district play, they came back from a 28-7 deficit to beat Manvel 56-28 and have only scored under 50 points once all season. The collective record of the Mustangs’ non-district opponents is 13-8 and includes two teams in Clear Springs and Manvel who are undefeated in district play.
North Shore has outscored Memorial by 45 points this season and held opponents to 36 fewer points. That’s despite playing one fewer game than the Titans. There’s a reason North Shore is No. 6 in the state.
“They are a heck of a football team,” Port Arthur Memorial head coach Kenny Harrison said. “They certainly don’t lack for talent. All their kids can run fast and they play hard and fly to the ball every play. They are a state-ranked team for a reason. They’ve also got the best offensive group we’ve seen this year.”
Turnovers will be key to this game. The two most complete games Memorial has played this season were against Houston Westside and Channelview. Not surprisingly, those were also the only two games this season that the Titans have not had a turnover.
North Shore, on the other hand, has shown a fondness for making turnovers. The Mustangs lead 21-5A in both interceptions (8) and fumbles recovered (13) with a stellar turnover margin of plus-16.
“Our kids understand that against this quality opponent, we can’t turn the ball over,” Harrison said. “Against an opponent that is as explosive as North Shore, turnovers can be killer.”
North Shore is led on offense by senior quarterback Micah Thomas. The 6-foot-1, 180 pounder was injured in last year’s game against Memorial, but has come back strong this season. Thomas has passed for 763 yards this season with five TDs and one INT while rushing for another 342 yards and seven TDs.
“We had three long runs for touchdowns called back last year in the Port Arthur game,” Aymond said. “Micah fell on his thumb and broke it on one of those runs. He didn’t tell us about it and played the whole second half while it swelled up. We didn’t know at the time, and then after the game, he was lost for the season. It was a blow to our football team. He’s done a great job this year. He’s done an unselfish job leading this team and making our offense work.”
A trio of backs makes their home behind Thomas, as the Mustangs rotate them in and out depending on the play. The team’s leading rusher is one of those, as sophomore Tristan Houston has popped onto the scene in a big way. The explosive Houston is averaging 18.5 yards per carry this season, his first on the varsity team.
“(Houston) is an incredibly fast kid,” Aymond said. “He’s also got outstanding character. We’re trying to bring him along gradually, since it’s a big step up from the freshman team to varsity. He’s one of three backs that we alternate in there at running back, but he’s doing a great job for us.”
Defensively, the Mustangs have been very opportunistic, as seven different players have interceptions this season. The group is led by defensive back Earnest Thomas, who has two INTs this season and is drawing interest from a handful of colleges.
The Titans will match up an offense that has grown as the season goes along against that Mustang front. Memorial’s running game, in particular, has gotten better and better each week. In the last three weeks, the Titans have increased their rushing yards from 198 against Bellaire to 289 against Deer Park to 332 against Channelview last week. Part of that has been the emergence of freshman Kameron Martin (38-279, 3 TDs) and the continued excellence of Ricky Fisk (90-610, 12 TDs), but a big part of it has also been the offensive line becoming more dominant at the point of attack.
“Our offensive line has gotten better and we feel good about where that group is at right now,” Harrison said. “We have a bunch of kids who contribute to our running game, but it starts up front. Ricky has been doing a great job and as a whole, that aspect of the offense has really come around. We need to keep improving there each week.”
In addition to Fisk and Martin in the backfield, expect to see more of both Darius Lemora and Devin Cockrell in the backfield for the Titans. Harrison has used both sparingly so far, with Cockrell getting just four carries for 12 yards this season and Lemora not totaling one carry yet, but that is likely to change against the Mustangs.
The Titans will also welcome Roderic Rucker back to the starting lineup, after he missed last week’s game against Channelview.