BELLS — Eli Strickland ran 16 times for 137 yards and three touchdowns — twice in the fourth quarter to give Bells the lead for good — as the Panthers beat Collinsville, 36-22, and clinch a playoff spot and the third seed in District 6-2A (I) action on Friday night.
This was a match-up were the winner was guaranteed a playoff spot while the loser would have to wait and clinch in the finale week. Bells (7-2, 3-2) was able to get that done while Collinsville (5-4, 2-3) will get the last spot with a home victory against winless Trenton.
Bells opened the game taking the ball from their 48-yard-line and Strickland scored from the three-yard line with 5:33 left in the first quarter.
Collinsville answered with a 12-yard TD run by Garrett Vannoy capping a drive from its 47-yard-line but a missed PAT had the Pirates trailing early in the second quarter.
The teams traded punts before Bryan Ponder, who completed 21-of-25 passes for 251 yards, connected with Hunter Hawthorne on a 58-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left in the half for a 14-6 lead.
Collinsville tied things up as Vannoy scored from the three-yard-line and then ran in the two-point conversion at the 8:21 mark of the third quarter. Vannoy led the Pirates with 96 yards on 19 carries.
The Panthers answered again as Ponder found his favorite target, Hawthorne, for a score from the 35-yard-line giving Bells the 21-14 lead again. Hawthorne finished with 13 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns, including the 309th reception of his career that moved him to second on the Texas high school all-time list. Only Jared Reagan of Booker, who totaled 391 from 2011-14, has more.
Hawthorne also moved to fourth on the Texas high school all-time receiving yards list, surpassing 4,500 in his career. He needs just two yards to reach third place.
With 22 seconds left in the quarter, Collinsville drove from its 40-yard-line and Gustavo Romo, who totaled 12 carries for 95 yards, had an 11-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion gave the Pirates their first lead of the night.
Bells took control of the fourth quarter and had the lead for good after Strickland scored on a nine-yard run with 8:31 left.
Strickland gave the Panthers some breathing room with a one-yard TD run with just under four minutes remaining.