ARLINGTON, Texas – Pleasant Grove had a huge advantage over its 4A Division II competition going into the 2019 high school football season. What was that advantage?
The Hawks play their 18th playoff game in the last three years Friday (3 p.m.) in AT&T Stadium against Wimberley for the state championship. Pleasant Grove (14-1) is making its third straight appearance in the title game, and it has a 16-1 record in the postseason during that period.
“These playoff games the past three years have basically given our program two extra seasons,” said Pleasant Grove coach Josh Gibson. “That’s something other teams don’t get.
“There’s been a ton of memories made, and we’ve maximized our time to really spread our brand. We’ve also done it in exemplary fashion. This group of seniors, juniors and sophomores will go down as a crew that will always remember who they were. All of these kids are very special to me, and I’ve had them six years.”
Recent experience an advantage for Hawks
A 2017 state crown, and state runnerup finish in 2018, put a huge target on Pleasant Grove’s back going into this season. The Hawks started out ranked No. 1 in 4A Division II. Their only blemish came early when 4A Division I’s top-ranked Carthage beat Pleasant Grove, 35-14. Nobody else has been able to challenge the Hawks.
Wimberley (12-3) was the District 13-4A runnerup, losing to Navarro and Cuero in league play. However, the Texans whipped Navarro in the Region IV final, 42-14. The Texans have scored at least 42 points in each of their playoff wins over Poteet, Raymondville, Rockport-Fulton, Navarro and Silsbee.
“Wimberley is playing for a state championship just like us,” said Gibson. “They have an excellent quarterback (Cooper McCollum), a really good receiver (Christian Marshall) and a big running back (Moses Wray). They’ve also got a very good offensive line.
“We feel like we’re playing the best quarterback we’ve seen this year, and the best passing game. That’s why they’ve scored a lot of points They’re extremely efficient. I would say they’re very similar to Sunnyvale and Midland Greenwood. We’ve got our hands full for sure, but that’s the way it should be in the championship game.”
McCollum (6-3, 195) has completed 210 of 340 passes for 3,498 yards and 47 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 688 yards and scored 14 TDs. Wray (6-0, 216) has rushed for 1,223 yards and 15 touchdowns. Marshall had 61 receptions for 1,282 yards and 18 TDs.
“On defense the Wimberley kids play hard and get after it,” said Gibson. “They’re a little weaker at the back end than they are out front. Maybe there will be some plays that go our way in the passing game. We’ve just got to play our brand of football.”
PG hoping injuries are not a factor
The Hawks’ biggest concern besides Wimberley could be injuries suffered in last week’s win over Greenwood.
Running back/linebacker Nick Martin left the game early with a knee injury, and is questionable for Friday’s game. Senior running back Bruce Garrett only carried the ball twice before leaving with an injury. Running back K.J. Hicks is recovering from the flu, and junior back Logan Johnson limped off the field at one point.
Gibson expects Garrett, Hicks and Johnson to play, but don’t be surprised if senior quarterback Ben Harmon ends his schoolboy career with a record passing performance.
“Ben has been a game-changer and leader these last three years,” said Gibson. “There’s going to be a void that the younger guys are going to have to step up and fill next season. One guy may not be able to do it. It may take several players.
“This has been an emotional week, and it’s going to be emotional Friday when those guys are coming off the field for the last time.”