BELLS — The Bells Panthers clinched the District 5-3A (I) championship by defeating the Whitewright Tigers, 28-14, and claiming the program’s first district crown since 1996.

Members of that 1996 squad were on hand for the trophy presentation after the victory and one week after Bells had locked up its sixth straight playoff berth. Bells (6-3, 5-0) will look to close out an undefeated district run when plays at Cooper on Friday.

Whitewright (4-5, 1-4) was trying to remain in the thick of a crowded playoff race for the district’s final two postseason spots behind Bells and Leonard, which is locked into the second seed. The Tigers would get in with a win against Prairiland, a Cooper loss to Bells and a Chisum loss to Blue Ridge.

Wrangler Priest led Bells with 23 carries for 216 yards and a touchdown and also caught a 27-yard touchdown for a score, Bo Baker added 12 carries for 73 yards and a touchdown and Blake Rolen also scored on the ground as the Panthers finished with 343 yards on 50 attempts.

Marshall Mangrum paced Whitewright with 11 carries for 75 yards and a score and also completed 25-of-41 passes for 302 yards and a touchdown with an interception, Ryne Godbey finished with eight catches for 91 yards, Aaron Pitt chipped in eight catches of 81 yards and Trevor McCartney totaled four catches for 60 yards.

Whitewright took possession first and drove deep inside Bells’ territory but failed to score after reaching the two-yard line.

After punting, the Panthers recovered a fumble and needed just four plays to cover 81 yards. A 41-yard run by Priest was followed by a 27-yard touchdown pass from Rolen to Priest put Bells on the board.

Three minutes later Whitewright answered back. Mangrum connected with Dylan Cordell on an eight-yard pass to tie the score at seven with 8:35 left in the second quarter.

Whitewright fumbled again and Bells took over on its 38-yard line. The Panthers cashed in the turnover when Rolen scored from a yard out with 22 seconds remaining in the half.

Whitewright recovered a fumble with a chance to pull even again but Bells forcing another turnover on downs.

Baker finished off the ensuing drive with a two-yard touchdown for a 21-7 lead at the 3:05 mark of the third quarter.

The Panthers continued to control the action and went up 28-7 on a four-yard run by Priest with 9:26 to go in the game.

Whitewright tried to rally as Mangrum scored on a keeper from a yard out on the ensuing possession. The Tigers attempted an onside kick but Bells recovered and Keaton High later came up with an interception to make sure the Panthers maintained their two-score advantage.