VAN ALSTYNE — After three games the Panthers were winless and banged up with a strong correlation between the two.
There were players switching roles on offense and defense as well as some moving from one side of the ball to the other entirely. The depth chart heading into the season does not look the same. And now the Panthers don’t look anything like the group which started 0-3.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to do, keep our momentum going forward,” junior running back Jake Carroll said. “We had to get our feet under us and once we did that we were good.”
Carroll ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries while Rhett Gallagher added 16 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown, was 10-of-17 passing for 122 yards and a score and also caught a TD throw from Gage Proctor as Van Alstyne won its fourth straight game, 38-24, against Lone Oak in District 5-3A (I) action on Friday night.
“We had some injuries early on and had to regroup,” Panthers head coach Mikeal Miller said. “It started clicking at the right time before district.”
Van Alstyne (4-3, 3-0) and Bonham are the only two teams undefeated at the top of the standings but do not play until the final week of the season. If there will be a showdown for the district title, neither side can slip up between now and then.
“It’s one game at a time,” Miller said. “Hopefully we can go to Commerce, play well and get to the bye where we can rest up.”
Carroll is a prime example of how the Panthers have endured. He started at linebacker and was elevated up the depth chart in the backfield due to injuries. After a combined eight carries in the first two games, he’s averaging nearly 21 rushing attempts since.
“It’s really just that I need to be ready for anything so when they call on me I’m ready to go,” Carroll said.
Quaid Williams was 16-of-21 passing for 263 yards and two touchdowns and finished with 19 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns for Lone Oak (2-3, 1-1), which saw the game get away during a 10-minute stretch across the third and fourth quarters.
The Buffaloes made a goal-line stand on fourth-and-one at their own three-yard line on Van Alstyne’s opening drive of the second half. Lone Oak needed just eight plays to go 97 yards, the last a 49-yard TD throw from Williams to Jack Kizer deep over the middle. After a failed two-point conversion the game was tied at 18 with just over 16 minutes remaining.
Drelin Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards and a face-mask penalty set the Panthers up at the Lone Oak 26. Three plays later Gallagher scored on a three-yard run.
The Panthers forced a three-and-out and went 85 yards, the last 18 on a Davis’ TD grab less than two minutes into the fourth quarter for a 31-18 advantage.
Lone Oak had a chance to get back in the game as its drive was set to continue on a fake punt but a penalty nixed most of the yardage and the Buffaloes turned it over on downs on the next play at their 38.
Carroll had all the carries on the ensuing four-play TD drive, capping it with a 12-yard run around the left side in the middle of the fourth.
Williams scored on a two-yard run with just over two minutes remaining to fashion the final score.
Van Alstyne took an 18-12 half-time by capitalizing on a field position battle.
The Panthers were up by three Rhett Gallagher’s 59-yard punt was downed by Ethan Litzkow at the one-yard line with just under three minutes left in the second quarter.
Lone Oak gained two yards and Davis returned the punt 16 yards to the Buffalo 21. Van Alstyne nearly squandered the scoring chance, picking up a first down but then stalling at the 11 before Aaron Beckham kicked a 27-yard field goal with 55 seconds remaining on the clock.
“It’s disappointing when you have some breaks in a game and can’t capitalize,” Miller said. “We created some things that were big plays and led to nothing.”
Lone Oak cut into the Panthers’ lead, making it 15-12 with 4:25 left in the half on a diving 21-yard catch by David Henry in the middle of the end zone as the Buffaloes faced fourth-and-15.
Carroll broke off a 53-yard touchdown run as he gained the left edge and was sprung through the secondary on a down-field block by Dylan Porter as the Panthers held a 15-6 lead with 8:12 remaining in the second.
“We’re really fortunate to have someone take the pressure off Rhett,” Miller said. “And with our receivers making people respect our perimeter, we can do a lot of things offensively.”
After Lone Oak turned it over on downs at the Van Alstyne 28 on its second series, the Buffaloes came up with a big defensive play to get on the board.
Cole Morris jumped in front of a receiver for an interception and returned it 32 yards to the Panther six-yard line. Williams scored on the first play of the possession but the conversion failed and Lone Oak still trailed by two.
Gallagher caught a seven-yard touchdown pass on some trickery by the Panthers late in the first quarter. He handed off to Carroll, who went left and handed off to Proctor coming back on the reverse. Proctor then hit Gallagher, who was all alone in the right side of the end zone. Proctor ran in the conversion for the 8-0 lead.
The teams opened the game by trading possessions that ended with fourth-down tries. Van Alstyne started by recovering Beckham’s pop-up kick which Aaron Palacio covered at the Lone Oak 43. The Panthers had third-and-five at the nine-yard line when a bad snap lost 18 yards and Gallagher’s ensuing throw to the end zone was incomplete.
The Buffaloes put together a drive that saw them with fourth-and-inches at the Van Alstyne 40. Williams was stuffed short of the marker.