Pleasant Grove upsets 2-time champ West Orange-Stark

Hawks win first-ever 4A Division II football state championship title


ARLINGTON -- On the first play from scrimmage TJ Cole found a hole in the defense, caught a pass over the middle, and sprinted untouched toward the end zone.


Seventy-five yards later he leaned into the end zone like a sprinter finishing the 100 meter dash, and Texarkana Pleasant Grove was well on its way to the first state championship in program history.


“My main focus was just not getting caught,” Cole said. 


Cole scored three touchdowns and had 186 all-purpose yards as Pleasant Grove upset West Orange-Stark 41-21 in the Class 4A, Division II championship game at AT&T Stadium.


West Orange-Stark (13-1) had entered the game as the trendy pick to win its third consecutive state title and extend a 40-game unbeaten streak. But the Mustangs, who hadn’t lost since Sept. 26, 2015, got beaten off the jump by a Pleasant Grove (16-0) team that was playing in for its first championship.


“Our theme was heart and soul and they put their heart and souls into the program, I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Pleasant Grove coach Josh Gibson said. “I’m more proud for them and just extremely excited.”


It only took 10 seconds of game time for Cole to give his team a 7-0 lead on that 75-yard reception. Cooper Kayven scored on a 3-yard run counter for West Orange-Stark, but a missed extra point kept Pleasant Grove in the lead, 7-6.


Cole added another receiving touchdown with 44 seconds left in the quarter, a 34-yard catch and run, pushing the lead to 14-6, and then ran for a 6-yard score on a pitch with 1:04 remaining in the first half making it 21-6 before halftime.


Cole’s first half was crucial as West Orange-Stark’s comeback bid came up short in the second half.


Bruce Garrett gave Pleasant Grove a 28-6 lead with 10:02 remaining on a 2-yard run, but the two-time defending champs responded.


Jarron Morris scored on a 44-yard reception and ensuing two-point conversion with 8:25 remaining.


Chaka Watson then connected with Blake Robinson on a 3-yard touchdown pass, cutting the lead to 28-21.


“We don’t know how to quit,” West Orange-Stark senior Tyshon Watkins said. “Our coach didn’t tell us to quit, so we aren’t ever going to. That’s why we battled back.”


That set up a crucial final drive for Pleasant Grove and key third-down conversion.


On a third-and-five from its own 30-yard line Pleasant Grove gambled and took a shot on a long pass down the left side line. Xavier Benson was able to make the crucial catch and gained 29 yards.


Five plays later Pleasant Grove missed a 39-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining, but was able to celebrate soon after when Benson, now playing linebacker, returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown with 15 seconds remaining.


“It was emotional, the whole time it was like, ‘we’ve got to make the play we’ve got to get the first down,” Benson said. “We’ve known it since our freshman year that we could win here, so we that was big at the end.”


Aaron Harmon added another pick-six for Pleasant Grove as time expired, leaving a more lopsided looking 41-21 final.


While it’s win streak came to an end, simply reaching the title game was a big deal for the Mustangs, who had missed their first two games this season because of Hurricane Harvey.


“After that rascal Harvey came through, we had to shut down for awhile,” Mustangs coach Cornel Thompson said. “I told our superintendent we were going to have a voluntary practice because football would bring this community back together. That first day we had 40

 players. The next day 32 showed up. The following day 16 showed up, because they were all fixing their houses. We made the next Monday a mandatory practice and everyone on that football team showed up and went back to work. That brought this team together and our community.”

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