Grden passes Friendswood to first round playoff win

FRIENDSWOOD — Friendswood junior quarterback Luke Grden was 19-of-25 passing for 279 yards and four touchdowns as the Mustangs moved passed Kingwood Park 40-14 in the Class 5A Region III Div. I bi-district contest.

The Mustangs (9-2) will now advance to the area round to face perennial power Cedar Park on Saturday, November 23 at NRG Stadium at 6:00 p.m.

Cedar Park (10-1) is a two-time state champion in 2012 and 2015 and they earned the right to meet Friendswood with a 49-10 win over Austin McCallum.

"We've got a pretty good record at NRG Stadium," Friendswood head coach Robert Koopmann said. "Our kids are excited about the opportunity to play there again."

In 2018, Friendswood missed out on the playoffs for the first time under Koopmann who took over for veteran head coach Steve Van Meter who retired from Friendswood in 2012.

"I was sitting on the couch last year. I didn't want to check on playoff scores," Koopmann said. "But this week last year, we began setting goals for where we are right now."

Those goals were met in one of the toughest 5A districts in the state and the Mustangs are on their way to the area round thanks to their 40-14 win over Kingwood Park.

Kingwood Park got the opening kickoff and drove to the Friendswood 14, but the Mustangs defense stiffened and turned the Panthers away without any points.

Friendswood was slow getting untracked on offense and had to punt, but their second possession was much better.

The Mustangs forced Kingwood Park to punt and set up shop at their own 24.

Junior running back Noah Palitz excited the crowd with a 43-yard run to the Kingwood Park 33-yard line.

Three plays later, Palitz bulled his way into the end zone on a 6-yard run for the score. Travis Mueller booted the PAT and the Mustangs were ahead 7-0 with 1:44 left in the first quarter.

The Mustangs added another touchdown on their next possession in the second quarter when Grden hit Palitz in the corner of the end zone for a 6-yard scoring toss with 9:13 left for a 14-0 advantage.

With 2:32 left in the first half, Grden struck again, this time on a 22-yard pass to Joey Tomko down the sideline for the score. Mueller hit the PAT and the Mustangs took a 21-0 lead into the dressing room at intermission.

Kingwood Park finally found the end zone with 6:46 remaining in the third when Brandon Acosta scored on a 7-yard run to narrow the margin to 21-7.

But Friendswood responded with a five-plus minute drive to score on a Grden to Dawson Johnson 4-yard touchdown to push the lead to 27-7 following the missed PAT.

The Panthers fumbled following the ensuing kickoff when Jackson Stephens recovered the ball at the Kingwood Park 22.

Grden hit senior Josh McGabe on a 10-yard scoring strike to push the lead to 33-7 with 11:17 left early in the fourth quarter.

A few minutes later, Christian Lee would score on a 17-yard run to make the score 40-7 with 8:55 left in the final quarter.

The Panthers would add a harmless score with 6:36 left in the game making the score 40-14, but it was too little too late.

Palitz was the leading ball carrier for the Mustangs with 91 yards rushing and five catches for 23 yards and a score. Lee had six catches for 81 yards and one TD and two carries for 26 yards and a TD.