Pleasant Grove is alive in Northeast Texas, while Foreman is the only survivor in the Southwest Arkansas football playoffs.
The unbeaten Hawks (13-0) face their toughest test of the season in the Melissa Cardinals (12-1), according to head coach Josh Gibson. Meanwhile, Foreman (11-1) won last week via forfeit because Earle played an ineligible player in its 50-31 victory over Salem. The Gators and Salem are playing in the 2A semifinals for the first time ever at Foreman.
Pleasant Grove vs. Melissa
Friday, 7:30 p.m., Wildcat Stadium, Paris, Texas
Statistically, Pleasant Grove and Melissa are both explosive on offense and dominating on defense. However, the Hawks are a run-first team, while passing when it’s necessary. Melissa, winner of its last 12 games in a row, likes to run and pass from the spread.
“Melissa will be the best team we’ve played this year because of its defense,” Gibson said. “They’re very well coached on both sides of the ball. A lot of Melissa’s players are studs and will be Division I players. A couple of them are sophomores, and I think our senior leadership could be the difference in the game. We’re led by twenty-two seniors. This is their last go-round. Their goal is unconditionally to make it to the big dance. We’re fired up and ready to play.”
The Cardinals’ offense is led by sophomore quarterback Brendon Lewis and sophomore running back Ja’bray Young. Lewis has passed for 1,738 yards and 20 touchdowns, while running for 550 yards and eight TDs. In 10 games Young rushed for 717 yards and seven touchdowns. Lewis’ favorite targets are junior K.C. Lewis and senior Tate Whittington.
Defensively, Melissa is led by middle linebacker Thomas Gallardo and free safety Cole McGraw. Gallardo had a team-high 121 tackles during the regular season, while McGray had six interceptions.
Pleasant Grove has its own outstanding sophomore quarterback in Ben Harmon. He has passed for 1,621 yards and 23 touchdowns. His favorite target is Carson Cox with 11 TD receptions. T.J. Cole has rushed for 1,385 yards and 18 touchdowns. Caleb Porchia is the team’s leading tackler with 162.
ESPN Texarkana, 94.1 FM, will carry this game. Chuck Zach will handle play-by-play.
Foreman vs. Salem
Friday, 7 p.m., Gator Stadium, Foreman, Ark.
Foreman coach Mark King said his team isn’t taking anything for granted against Salem (6-6).
“They’re not a bad football team at all,” King said. “Salem will line up in the I-formation and run right at us. They’ve got a back (Jordan Turner) with nearly 2,000 yards and a good o-line. Both teams like to run the ball, and neither throws much.”
If you’ve seen Harding University, Navy or Georgia Tech on offense (flexbone), you’ve seen the Gators’ offense.
“Salem won’t be able to key on just one back; so far that has been working for us,” King said. “Defense has been the difference for us this season. We’ve been playing lights out every week for the most part. We don’t have a superstar, just eleven guys who get after it and work well as a unit. We’re fast and physical.”
Foreman quarterback Kyren Batey has rushed for 560 yards and nine touchdowns in the Gators’ first two playoff wins. Batey has 1,687 yards and 29 TDs for the season.
Louie Avery will be reporting for Fox Sports Texarkana.