MINEOLA — The Bells Panthers knew they would be going up against a team that could put the ball in the end zone. Just a week earlier, the Elysian Fields Yellowjackets had scored seven touchdowns.
So if the Panthers were going to continue one of the greatest seasons in school history, they would a standout defensive performance.
It turned out to be very needed as two teams that have put up big offensive outputs struggled to get much going but Wrangler Priest had a pair of touchdown runs and Bells allowed next to nothing for a 14-6 victory in a Class 3A Division II Region III area round game.
Bells (9-3) will play in the region semifinals for just the second time in school history and first since the 1997 squad made it to the third round. The Panthers had never won two playoff games in the same season before knocking off the Yellowjackets (7-5).
Bells will face Paul Pewitt in the region semifinals at 6 p.m. on Friday at Sulphur Springs with a win putting them in the region final for the first time in school history. The nine victories tie for the third-most in a season by the program — only the 1989 and 1996 teams had more victories.
Priest finished with 23 carries for 159 yards and two touchdowns while Bo Baker chipped in 16 carries for 47 yards for Bells.
Ryan Wilkerson had 18 carries for 79 yards and completed 16-of-22 passes for 173 yards while Jackson Illingsworth had five catches for 97 yards and Tony Mason chipped in 10 carries for 31 yards and the lone touchdown for Elysian Fields.
Elysian Fields got the first possession of the game but only advanced to the 46 yard-line and was forced a punt. Bells started deep in its end — the six-yard line — without moving much further.
That set up the Yellowjackets with good field position and Elysian Fields made it to the Bells 15-yard line but a fumble recovery by Hank Weaver gave the Panthers the ball back.
Bells moved to midfield and the first quarter ended in a scoreless tie.
The score didn't stay that way much longer when Elysian Fields put a drive together and scored on a two-yard run by Mason but the kick failed and the Yellowjackets led 6-0.
Another fumble recovery by Bells gave it a chance to get on the scoreboard right before half-time and Priest scored with five seconds left in the second quarter on a one-yard run on fourth down.
Keaton High's PAT put Bells in front heading to the third quarter.
The Panthers opened the second half with a drive that got just outside the red zone when Blake Rolen was intercepted by Landon Swank.
The teams continued to trade possessions through the rest of the third quarter and into the fourth.
Priest came up with a fumble recovery and Bells was looking to hold on for the victory. With 2:28 left in the game, Priest carried the ball in from the 18-yard-line scored and the margin moved to eight points.
Elysian Fields would try one more drive to force overtime from its 35-yard-line. The Yellowjackets were on the verge of doing so but the Bells defense made one final stand getting a turnover on downs at its two-yard line to preserve the victory.