The Goose Creek Memorial football team celebrates its 28-16 victory at La Porte Friday night which guarantees the program its first playoff berth since 2013. (Baytown Sun photo by Alan Dale)

GCM clinches playoff spot; Joins REL in postseason

LA PORTE - Once mired in the doldrums of high school football, the Goose Creek Memorial Patriots found a way to walk into the light in quick time.

Coming off a 2-8 season in 2018 and only three wins over a three-year span, GCM hired Shannon Carter to take over in the spring of 2019 and to say the move paid dividends would be a massive understatement.

GCM got a superlative defensive effort and some key offensive drives Friday night to pull away and then hold on for a 28-16 win at La Porte to clinch its first playoff appearance since 2013.

GCM forced five La Porte (4-4, 2-4) turnovers.

The Patriots (5-3, 4-2) are currently in a tie for second place in District 9-5A I with one game to play. Friendswood (3-5, 3-3) is in fifth place, but by virtue of having lost to GCM, Robert E. Lee (6-2, 4-2) and Beaumont United (6-2, 4-2), it has been eliminated from contention.

Carter admits that even though the GCM turnaround took two years it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

“It took every fiber in every persons’ bodies,” Carter said. “I want to congratulate the coaching staff – they did a tremendous job buying into the vision and taking the vision and running with it. It’s a tribute to the community. When you are selling something, someone has to buy it and the kids bought into it and believed in it and here we are.”

The air of confidence was evident in the team’s approach to every situation it faced against the Bulldogs and Carter said it began to rise two weeks earlier when they started the current three-game win streak with the last second 15-14 over rivals Sterling.

“It was that last (winning) drive against Sterling and even against Friendswood we had to come back from being down 14,” Carter said. “But it was that last drive when we didn’t have anything going that game and just kept getting stops. We drove it down on them and won that game.

“From there the kids realized they can overcome adversity. The players are making plays and are getting better every week.”

La Porte jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the opening kickoff which started a trend as of late for the Patriots with another slow start.

It also began a long night for their special teams.

But GCM would not be daunted.

A 12-yard run by quarterback Dylan Pitre tied the game at 7-7 with 6:14 left in the first quarter.

“We rely on our defense and our defense relies on us,” Pitre said. “We are a big family – we need each other. They rely on us to get points and we rely on them to get stops. It’s good knowing they have our back.

“It’s a big relief because we know they are solid, and they are going to hold the other team down and be good. This moment is really big for us and we are going to party all night.”

Then the defense, which stymied the La Porte attack all night with big fourth-down stops and key three-and-outs, got its play of the game when linebacker Bryce Johnston stripped the La Porte quarterback, picked up the ensuing fumble and dashed 60 yards to the house for a 14-7 GCM lead.

The Patriots then doubled its edge just eight seconds before halftime when Ja'keydric Smith rumbled into the end zone for a two-yard score and a 21-7 lead.

Smith finished with 92 yards rushing while Pitre added 86 yards.

Johnston then came up big again when things were going badly for the Patriots as he batted away a poor snap on the punt following GCM’s first drive out of the intermission.

The senior Patriots saw the ball sail over his head and was able to bat the ball out of the end zone before La Porte could recover and score a touchdown and instead settle for the two-point safety.

Leading 21-9, Pitre and the GCM offense got it going again and he hit Jaylon Thompson in the left, front corner of the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown pass at the pylon to go up 28-9.

“We have really good faith in our offense to go score,” Johnston said.

The Bulldogs scored at the end of the quarter, following a solid punt return aided by poor GCM tackling to pull within 28-16 and then GCM’s defense was bend don’t break the rest of the way.

Josiah Rice and Luis Acosta would end two La Porte scoring threats in the final five minutes with leaping interceptions – the latter coming in the end zone – and GCM was heading to the playoffs.

“I left Sterling back in 2012 and went to Pearland Dawson, but there was something always in my heart that tugged me to Baytown,” Carter said of his three-year stint as the Rangers outside linebackers coach. “I am a hope dealer, and I am a lot of these kids: I come from a broken home and it was a perfect marriage. I came at the right time.

“The cupboard wasn’t left bare; we got the kids to believe and here we are.”

For the seniors who only a few years ago had so little hope of seeing days like this, a night like this one means the world to them.

“This means everything with Coach Carter coming here and taking this role that not many people wanted and taking us to the playoffs for the first time in a long time,” Johnston said. “No, I didn’t see this happening. I played because I loved football, but a lot of people wanted to quit, and nobody had faith in us. What else would you do with a brand-new coaching staff? You might as well come back and look where it got us?”

With the win, GCM will head to playoffs for the fifth time in school history since the team began playing in 2008.

Also, with REL and Sterling playing Dec. 4 and GCM wrapping up at home against Beaumont United on Dec. 3 in a game will determine seeding for the bi-district round, the worst the Baytown schools can finish is 14-13 for the regular season, which would be the first-ever above .500 campaign combined by all three Baytown schools.

Currently they are 13-11 including Sterling’s 2-6 mark. This is also only the second time two Baytown teams will be in the playoffs in the same year – with 2009 being the last campaign when GCM and REL did it then as well.

With GCM’s qualification, Baytown will see its eighth playoff team since all three schools have played football with the Patriots leading the way with five of those appearances.

Carter said the season finale at United will be a huge litmus test for his squad to stay in high gear with the playoffs coming.

“We want to continue the momentum and momentum is a powerful thing,” Carter said. “With the world we live in, we just want to keep the good feeling. Win three in a row? I don’t know when the last time was, we did that around here and two teams from Baytown being in the playoffs. I am just happy to be a part of the tournament and we are going to treat that game like a playoff game.”

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