The Houston Mustangs entered the 2019 season motivated from unfinished business in 2018.
James Thomas and his squad only suffered two defeats the previous season coming courtesy of the rival Germantown Red Devils and the Whitehaven Tigers in the playoffs.
But when a few area football experts didn’t pick the Mustangs to win the Region 7-3A title in the preseason, Houston had a problem. And the Mustangs solved all those issues for the naysayers with a 10-0 record and beating league rivals a combined 168-67.
Houston reached the playoffs as a No. 1 seed and drew a familiar foe in Germantown. The Red Devils were eliminated 56-12. After putting up 55 points on the White Station Spartans, it was time for the Mustangs to exercise one more demon from 2018.
In a hard-hitting Class 6A Quarterfinal match up, Houston avenge its Whitehaven defeat by beating the Tigers 27-6.
The Mustangs’ special season came to an end at Ravenwood. Since then Thomas and several of his players have been racking up honors and awards including Arkansas State committee Lincoln Pare being named Tennessee Mr. Football Class 6A.
Another honor to come the Mustangs’ way was the 2019 West 10 Media Power 10 championship for finishing first in the polls of The Bartlett Express, The Collierville Herald-Independent, The Covington Leader, The Millington Star and The Shelby Sun Times.
“It feels great, these kids have done so many first things for this program this school,” Thomas said. “This is another first thing. We’ve never been presented this award before. It feels good and it couldn’t have happened to a greater group of kids.”
The Power 10 Championship originated in 2017 with the Germantown Red Devils winning the award. Another perfect season by the Red Devils in 2018 locked up the honor again.
Now the plaque resides down the road at 9755 Wolf River Blvd. The Mustangs’ perfect season started with a 36-12 victory over the Southaven Chargers.
The next test was Memphis Central and Houston passed with a 48-13 win. After a 45-0 shutout of the Bolton Wildcats, it was time for a showdown with the ECS Eagles.
The eventual Division II-2A State champions Eagles suffered their only defeat of the year at the hands of Houston 36-20.
Then Houston took down three straight Region foes in Arlington, Bartlett and Collierville. KIPP-Memphis was next to fall improving Houston to 8-0 overall.
Cordova was the last Region opponent to lose to Houston securing an unbeaten league record. The regular season finale came against Southwind. The Jaguars had the best offensive showing against the Mustangs. But Houston had enough to win the shootout 50-45.
“I preach, ‘Take it one game at a time,’” Thomas said. “They did a great job of taking the philosophy and running with it. It was a grind. We had a great 10 game schedule. Got through that and then through the playoffs took it one game at a time. We had a little success.”
Houston, ranked in the top 10 all season for Class 6A in the state, was one of the favorites to reach Cookeville. The road to a possible State appearance started with Germantown in the first round. Houston dominated for a 44-point win.
The Spartans were disposed by a 35-point margin in the second round. Then the defense and offense played solid games against the Whitehaven Tigers to win by 21 points.
“It was pretty special for the kids to get a little revenge on Germantown,” Thomas said. “Then we had a great game against White Station. The kids really showed out. Then we had that big one with Whitehaven that got us out of the area. It was just another goal on our chart and another one we marked off.
“There’s no doubt (2018) had a big impact on us because we were so close,” he continued. “We made some mistakes and we focused all year on cleaning those mistakes up and getting the job done. The kids took it and ran with it. They couldn’t have done a better job focusing on what they had to do, focusing on their job and focusing on taking care of the football. Ultimately coming out with a victory against Whitehaven. It was great.”
Through the season and playoffs, the Mustangs racked up records including the best start in school history at 13-0. The number 13 was special to Thomas because it represented the Class of 2020. He is glad to add another honor to their legacy with the Power 10 Championship.
“This senior class has done a lot of things,” he said. “Lincoln Pare set the all-time rushing yards for a season and a career. Quarterback Ethan Burns is the all-time leader in passing yards for a career. And receiver Grayson Hitt is the all-time leader in receiving yards.
“A lot of offense and the defense was really young coming on at the end,” Thomas concluded. “But just an unbelievable season with an unbelievable group of kids. The seniors are a very tight group. It was just 13 of them. And they made a huge impact on the team and this program.”