Thanksgiving Weekend is finally arriving which means the start of Christmas shopping in Orange Friday for many high school football fans. Whatever can’t be found at home will be sought the next day at a mall near where the West Orange-Stark Mustangs will be playing their third-round football game in the state playoffs. 

And thanks to an overwhelming and overpowering 37-7 win over the Caldwell Hornets Friday night at Woodforest Bank Stadium in The Woodlands, the Mustangs will continue in the Class 3A Region III Division II semifinals Saturday against the high-scoring Gilmer Buckeyes 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin. 

Gilmer, like the Mustangs, went through District 17-3A play with a perfect 5-0 record by defeating Bullard 48-12, Chapel Hill 35-6, Spring Hill 55-7, Gladewater 48-12 and Tatum 48-14. 

The only loss the black-and-orange uniformed Buckeyes suffered was a pre-district 28-14 setback at the hands of Kilgore, a Class 4A opponent who fell victim to powerhouse Ennis and was ousted from the state playoffs last weekend.

The Buckeyes opened their playoff run with a lop-sided 54-0 shutout over Diboll in which junior quarterback Darien “Stump” Godfrey accounted for five touchdowns, connecting twice on passes to Tristan Holt and running for a trio of TDs.  Gilmer forced four first-half turnovers which led to the bi-district blowout.

Last Friday Gilmer outscored always-tough Mexia 50-36 to pad their scoring average for the season to 46.4 points per contest. The Buckeyes give up 16 points a game.

Gilmer’s football program is similar to the Mustangs with plenty of tradition and fan support. Head Coach Jeff Traylor has been at the helm of the Buckeyes for six years and has notched a nice winning streak in district play and also won the state championship in 2004.

The quarterback on that state championship team was Manuel Johnson who rushed for over 1,600 yards and signed a scholarship with Oklahoma. The Sooners converted him into a wide receiver and he coincidentally was the player who made that one-handed touchdown catch against Texas Tech Saturday night.

Gilmer runs a spread offense similar to the Mustangs’ with Godfrey at quarterback and junior Jeremy Jackson the featured running back.

“Their offense is very explosive and the Godfrey kid has a real good sense of what to do,” commented Mustangs long-time head coach Dan Hooks. 

“Godfrey will either hand off to Jackson, run with the football himself or hit a play-action pass to 6-3 wide receiver Prentiss Bell or Holt,” Hooks continued. “Coach Traylor really knows how to effectively use that spread offense. If we can stop them, we’ll be the first team since Kilgore to do it.”

Gilmer uses a defense very similar to the Mustangs alignment, but the Buckeyes don’t fly to the football they way the WO-S “Chain-Gang defense does. “They have a lot of two-way performers just like do,” Hooks pointed out. “Most Class 3A teams have several players who go both ways.”

And speaking of the Mustangs’ vaunted defense, their 56 points allowed this season are the fewest given up in the entire state of Texas.  Caldwell scored first when quarterback Trentin Sims sprinted 74 yards after a nifty fake and was caught by Mustang speedster Trey Franks and bounced out of bounds at the WO-S 10.

Sims scored on a similar play which must have gotten the attention of the Chain-Gang defense because the ‘Stangs didn’t give up much more the rest of the way.

Franks, who wrist is in a soft plying cast because of a cracked bone, also intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble for the Mustangs.

Senior tailback Quintavious Garrett put on an offensive show that delighted the 3,500 Mustangs fans who braved the cold, crisp night air Friday night by running over, around and through the Hornets once-proud defense. The 5-7, 185-pounds of dynamite torched Caldwell for 217 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns.

“Quinney was phenomenal,” Hooks bubbled. “I never saw him that physical. On one of his touchdown runs, he carried half a dozen players eight yards to the end zone. He just refused to go down.”

Quarterback Ortavious Hypolite, also a senior, did a masterful job of running the Mustangs offense, which rolled up 468 yards of total offense. Hypolite picked up 123 yards on the ground and a touchdown and also threw two TD passes.

“Hypo really looked comfortable out there,” Hooks continued. “He broke loose on that 69-yard touchdown run and had those two scoring passes right on the money.”

Perhaps the play that really broke Caldwell’s back was as flukey as they come. Mustangs James Haynes had his punt blocked by Hornet Nick Havermann. But the perceptive Haynes caught the ball in the air and ran 18 yards to the Caldwell 38. Garrett blasted up the middle untouched for the touchdown that put the Mustangs comfortable ahead, 28-7.

“I had never seen a blocked punt caught in mid-air like that one,” Hooks chortled. “James let his athleticism take over by catching the football and then using his sprinter’s speed to take it downfield.

That completely took the momentum away from Caldwell.”

Tickets for the Mustang-Gilmer game were sold at West Orange-Stark High School only on Monday and will be available at the gate of Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin before the game Saturday for $7.

The winner of the Gilmer-Mustang game will play the winner between Carthage and Rockdale.

KWICKIES…The Texas Longhorns moved up one notch to No. 2 in this week’s carefully-monitored Bowl Championship Series football poll. Undefeated Alabama remained at No. l, Oklahoma was No. 3, Florida No. 4 and USC No. 5.

And speaking of the Texas Longhorns, quarterback Colt McCoy’s stock went up considerably in the Heisman Trophy chase when Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell tanked in Saturday’s big 65-21 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners. However, McCoy must have a great game Thursday against Texas A&M so the voters from the West Coast or the Big 10 won’t throw in one of their unqualified choices.

We played golf Saturday with Lynn Ashcraft and watched the retired North Orange Baptist pastor fire a 37-32—69 at Sunset Grove Country Club. The Preacher, as he is fondly referred to by his fellow golfers, had five birdies during the round.

Several Southeast Texas high school football teams saw their respective seasons come to an end last weekend as Silsbee was bounced by undefeated Navasota 48-33, Dickinson edged West Brook 18-17 on a late two-point conversion and Nederland lost 34-27 to Magnolia when the Bulldogs fumbled twice late in the fourth period. Other area schools eliminated from the state playoffs included East Chambers, Evadale and West Hardin. Four Southeast Texas teams remain alive and well in the state playoffs– the West Orange-Stark Mustangs in Class 3A, Kirbyville and Newton in Class 2A and Beaumont Central in Class 4A.

Congrats to the Lamar University volleyball team for winning the Southland Conference title Sunday and advancing to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993. The Lady Cardinals upset top-seeded Texas State in an exciting five-set match at Stephen F. Austin’s Johnson Coliseum.

JUST BETWEEN US…Two great college football programs in Louisiana suffered devastating upset losses Saturday when Ole Miss hi-jacked LSU 31-13 and our McNeese State Cowboys fell to Central Arkansas 47-30 to really hurt their post-season opportunities. Fortunately, the Lone Star State’s NFL teams fared much better on Sunday as the three-point underdog Houston Texans surprised the Browns in Cleveland 16-6 for a rare road win while the Dallas Cowboys covered their 10-point spread by downing the hapless San Francisco 49ers 35-22 on Terrell Owens’ seven catches for a whopping 213 yards and a touchdown.