By I.C. Murrell | PA News
Nederland (10-1) vs. Marshall (9-2)
• 5A Division II area round; 4 p.m. Friday, NRG Stadium, Houston; KLVI-AM 560
NEDERLAND — If the games are getting harder after a 9-0 start, Nederland coach Monte Barrow is fine with that.
“These are the games you live for,” Barrow said. “This is the game you want if you’re playing. You don’t want the game you’re favored 50 points over. This is the game you want in a big venue. Go take advantage of it and make some memories.”
Nederland’s reward for coming from a 13-0 deficit to beat Fort Bend Willowridge 22-16 in last Friday’s bi-district round of the 5A Division II playoffs is a visit to NRG Stadium in Houston to face Marshall (9-2) — the team from the northeast Texas town. Both Nederland (10-1) and Marshall were ranked in the final Texas High School Coaches Association’s 5A-II Region III poll at No. 4 and No. 6, respectively, but not in the Associated Press statewide poll.
Bulldogs fullback Armani Douglas, who sometimes plays tight end, said the confidence is carrying over from last Friday, when he made a 34-yard carry into the red zone on the winning drive. For him and many returning players from last season’s 5A-I area round team that fell to state runner-up Manvel at NRG, the NFL lights won’t be too bright.
“It’s a big stadium, then you’ve got to remember we played in a big game against PNG, so we all are aware of the situation we’re in right now,” Douglas said. “I think we’re going to be ready to play this game.”
Nederland and Marshall is scheduled for a 4 p.m. kickoff Friday, part of a tripleheader that includes Huntsville vs. Manvel at noon and Port Neches-Groves vs. Lindale at 8. The winners of the first two games will meet up in the regional semifinals, a round Nederland last reached in 2012.
“They understand in the playoffs, it’s about playing all four quarters,” Barrow said, his team taking its only lead with 1:42 to play on Blaysin Fernandez’s 3-yard carry. “Nobody goes away, whether you’re up or down. It’s hard to put teams away. It’s hard to be put away. So, you’ve got to trust in everything you’ve done to that point, especially in a long season like it’s been. You have to trust in the little things and reach back into things that got you to this point.” Marshall went unbeaten in District 9-5A Division II, using seven running backs who’ve each totaled 100 or more yards rushing this season. Junior quarterback J.J. Green has led the way with 626 yards and five touchdowns on 87 carries while throwing for 2,091 yards (122 for 208) and 29 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Seniors Demarcus Williams (14.1), Tahj Washington and Dekendrick Bender each average better than 10 yards per carry. Bender has seven rushing TDs. “You can’t adjust for the quality of athletes they have, which they have an abundance of them both sides of the ball,” Barrow said. “It still comes down to guys on the field making plays. Hopefully we continue making plays and building on the fourth quarter we had against Willowridge, bring it in to this game and have a fast start.” Fernandez will likely start despite not checking into the Willowridge game with a hip condition just before kickoff. If not, backup Bryce McMorris has not disappointed the Bulldog faithful with his passing ability, as he went for 226 yards last Friday. “It’s a testament to him, and hopefully other guys see what it means to prepare all week like you’re going to be the guy because you never know when your time is coming,” Barrow said.
The Bum Phillips Bowl loss at PNG and close home win over Willowridge the past two games are not the only games that have prepared Nederland for another visit to NRG Stadium. “I think the entire season has prepared them for that,” Barrow said. “I think the history of this program has prepared us for this. These kids who have been around, maybe they were in the stands. Maybe they were in elementary school. But they’ve seen teams here. They’ve faced teams that have this athletic ability.”