West Orange-Stark’s state title opponent a ‘dark horse’ in bracket

December 12, 2016 GMT

Moments after West Orange-Stark’s state semifinal win over Navarro on Friday, coach Cornel Thompson gathered his team together near the 50-yard-line inside NRG Stadium.

“We got the Sweetwater Mustangs next,” he said. “Do you guys know anything about them?”

They shook their heads.

“Me neither, but I’m going to dissect them,” Thompson said.

It wasn’t the opponent they expected as West Orange-Stark travels to AT&T Stadium on Friday at noon for their third straight Class 4A-II championship game and an opportunity for the school’s first back-to-back titles since 1986-87.

Sweetwater’s 48-35 win Friday over Gilmer negated a potential rematch against the Buckeyes - a team that beat them in the 2014 title game.

Instead, it’s a match-up between East and West Texas football - Mustangs vs. Mustangs.

“I always thought they were a dark horse in our bracket,” Thompson said. “They haven’t won a title in a long time but they’ve had some recent success.”

Sweetwater’s last state title appearance - and win - was in 1985, a 17-7 victory over Tomball. Their only other appearance was in 1957, a 20-7 loss to Nederland. In the last three years however, the Mustangs have put together a 38-3 record, including runs to the third and fourth rounds the past two seasons.

West Orange-Stark has gone 43-4 in the last three years, including its current 26-game win streak.

Sweetwater runs an effective spread offense which averages 45 points per game behind dual-threat junior quarterback Chris Thompson, who completed 25-of-33 passes for 306 yards a two touchdowns against Gilmer. He has rushed for 973 yards this season.

His main target, junior Kobe Clark, has hauled in 64 receptions for 1,104 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.

It will be the fifth time West Orange-Stark has faced a spread offense this season. They previously held Robinson, Silsbee, Giddings and Nederland to a combined 21 points.

The Mustangs’ defense received praise Saturday from Denver Broncos defensive coordinator and former Lutcher Stark High School defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

“Congratulations to WO-S and Connel and staff. Playing for 2nd straight state championship! Love your defense,” Phillips said on Twitter.

The Mustangs have held their opponents to 63 total points this season.

But Coach Thompson believes their offense will pose a serious challenge.

“They run an offense similar to ours,” Thompson said. “They have dangerous play makers just like us. We’ve got some time to really look at what they do and come up with a game plan. But we’ll be ready.”

Thompson said his team plans to leave for Arlington at 8 a.m. Thursday and expects, like last year, to have a large crowd send off his team.

“This town supports these kids, this program and loves their football,” he said. “I expect a lot of people who come out will end up getting in their cars and following us to the game.”

DYhompson@BeaumontEnterprise.com Twitter.com/daveth89