The two-a-day football practices that began in August don’t seem that long ago although Thanksgiving is fast approaching. Twelve weeks of football have passed since those hot preseason practices. For the three Orange County teams that stepped into the state playoffs last weekend there was something noticeably different in their practice sessions back then. All three had been pegged as underdogs in one form or other. They went into the 2013 season each with something to prove.

The West Orange Stark Mustangs were picked second in district behind Silsbee. In Mustang country that is considered an insult. For the Orangefield Bobcats and Little Cypress-Mauriceville Bears, a trip to the playoffs seemed unlikely. LCM hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1997 and it had been a decade for Orangefield.

Back in the heat of August all three teams had key positions to yet to fill. But any observer could see there was no question about the dedication and enthusiasm these teams and coaches brought into the season in those early practices. It would be the spark that ignited success for all three teams in 2013.

The WOS Mustangs would inevitably crush the Silsbee Tigers and once again claim the championship of Dist. 21-3A. Last Thursday the Mustangs entered the bi-district round against Hargrave-Huffman posting a  41-9 victory. The Mustangs now face Colombia in the area round on Friday. LCM and Orangefield both fell in the bi-district round of the playoffs last week but not without first knocking out district rivals and rising in the standings.

Back in August, Orangefield Head Coach Josh Smalley surveyed his schedule and determined that the Bobcats had a good shot at the playoffs.  “We plan to get there. We don’t care who we play after that,” he said during a preseason practice, “We’ll play the Dallas Cowboys if we have to.”

In the weeks that followed the Bobcats would rack-up 3547 total yards of offense, putting 241 points on the board. Orangefield would put the final touches on a 6-4 season by defeating cross-community rival the Bridge City Cardinals 35-14  in the Bayou Bowl. And for the first time since 2003 stepped into the state playoffs.

Unfortunately for the Bobcats, they didn’t get the Dallas Cowboys in the bi-district round. They got the Coldspring-Oakhurst  Trojans instead. The undefeated championship team of Dist. 22 would end the Bobcat’s season. But the “The Pride’ of Orange County went down fighting, 28-14.

Orangefield’s Wiley brothers were both in the top five rushers in Dist, 21-3A. Carmichael at quarterback and Carl at runningback, combined for 2,320 total yards. Carl Wiley led the district in rushing with 1555 yards on 220 carries and eight touchdowns. He also led the Bobcat defense in tackles. Carmichael accounted for 765 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. The senior quarterback also passed for 268 yards and four touchdowns.

A solid crew of Orangefield seniors will be remembered for the part they played in the success of the Bobcats this season. Offensively and defensively they are Dustin Verrett, Lane Frillou, Dylan Gray, Craig Leverett, Zach Hussey, Cameron Childers, Mason Sonnier, Bryan Lopez, Tristan Dunn, Westin Crain and Blayne Neeley.

The LCM Battlin’ Bears entered the playoffs with a 5-2 record in Dist. 20-4A. The only district losses suffered by LCM was to undefeated district champion the Nederland Bulldogs and to second place Beaumont Central. The Bears knocked off traditional powerhouse the Port Neches-Groves Indians 31-14 and defeated Beaumont Ozen 24-7. LCM then beat Lumberton 38-12. A spectacular season would end for LCM in the bidistrict round against Dayton 49-16.

The LCM Bears had a robust offensive attack in 2013 accumulating 1872 yards led by senior running back Brandon Toliver. Toliver had 1241 yards and 13 touchdowns in the season. Senior Jalen Griffin had 462 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Senior quarterback Caleb Harley accounted for 675 yards passing and five touchdowns. Harley connected with senior receiver Dalton Doyle for 32 receptions for 401 yards and four touchdowns. Junior receiver Cody Roddy had 20 receptions for 215 yards and a touchdown.

LCM’s senior place kicker Trent Manuel was superb in 2013. The future McNeese Cowboy was 8 of 10 on field goals, his longest a 43 yarder in the Dist. 20 4A finale against the Vidor Pirates. Manuel was 23 of 24 on PAT’s. He booted 10 kickoff touchbacks and averaged 32 yards per punt as punter. Manuel also contributed as safety in the LCM defense.

Other departing seniors who have left their mark in the successful 2013 season for the LCM Bears include Josh Provost, Trey’von Tims, Freddy De La Fuente, Dallas Lopez, Bryce Rambo, Bradley Bergeron, Brady Lyons, T.J. Barlow, Jalen Griffin, Seth Trahan, Colten Beard, Kayl Simon, Tommy Brzezinski, Troy Angelo, Chris Mercer, Dustin Daigle, Tyler Hayes, Stephen Rambin, Slade Ferguson, Jeremiah Smith, Kenneth Granger, Caleb Green, Matthew Chitty and Austin Woods.

The WOS Mustangs now remain the only Orange County team still doing battle in the state football playoffs. The Record will follow the Mustangs as far as they go, hopefully we will see them in the Dallas Cowboy’s AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Friday, Dec. 21 for the Class 3A state championship. For everything ‘Mustang’ see Meri Elen Jacob’s column Mustang Insider in this issue of The Record and on