2nd-place Bells holds off Whitewright

By Rick Bailey
For the Herald Democrat
Bells' Jaden Nelson breaks up a pass intended for Whitewright's Reilly Evans during a District 8-3A (II) match-up.

WHITEWRIGHT — The Bells Panthers ran into a tenacious group of Tigers seeking to secure a playoff berth when they visited Whitewright but were able to leave with a 28-20 win in District 8-3A (II) action behind a big outing by Bo Baker.

The Panthers (8-2, 5-1) locked down the second seed for the playoffs in their regular-season finale as Bells has the district bye on Friday. If S&S beats Gunter, then Bells and Gunter would share the district title. The Panthers will play the third-place team out of District 7-3A (II) to open the playoffs in two weeks.

The loss leaves Whitewright (5-4, 2-3) tied with Leonard in fourth place and those two will square off in Leonard on Friday with the winner going to the playoffs as the fourth seed and the loser being eliminated.

Baker finished with 207 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries as Bells gained all but 15 of its 368 yards on the ground. Lane Kendrick added 12 carries for 53 yards and a TD and Blake Rolen chipped in 11 carries for 78 yards.

Whitewright went with a balanced attack which totaled 330 yards (183 rushing and 147 passing). Kayden Carraway completed 16-of-30 passes for 147 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions and ran 13 times for 60 yards and two TDs, Colby Jones finished with 11 carries for 114 yards and Reilly Evans caught 10 passes for 88 yards and a score.

Bells rode the legs of Baker early and he scored on the sixth play of the Panthers' first possession with a burst through the right side followed by a cutback on a 54-yard touchdown scamper.

Nine of Baker's 19 rushes netted at least 12 yards.

The Tigers answered back on the ensuing possession with a 12-play drive. Carraway scrambled for several first downs before reaching the end zone on a five-yard run. He then hit Evans for the two-point conversion and Whitewright held an 8-7 advantage with a couple of minutes left in the quarter.

The Tigers tried a surprise onside kick and Bells took over at the Whitewright 38-yard line. The Panthers couldn't take advantage of the good field position as Carraway picked off a pass deep in Tiger territory.

A drive that covered 95 yards included a 51-yard run by Jones to the Bells 36. Five plays later Carraway found Evans for a four-yard TD pass.

The Panthers answered with a 10-play drive behind Baker and Kendrick. Baker punched the ball in from eight yards out but the PAT failed and Whitewright was still up 14-13 with 4:34 remaining in the half.

After the teams exchanged punts, Bells came up with a fumble recovery at the Tigers 27. Two plays later Kendrick scored on a 15-yard run at the 1:16 mark and the Panthers took a 20-14 lead into the break.

Bells opened the second half with the ball and used 12 plays to move 63 yards for another score. Baker capped off the drive with a two-yard scamper and Rolen ran in the conversion.

Both teams made defensive stops through the rest of the third quarter before Whitewright took over at its 17 with 11:51 remaining and put together a massive 21-play drive which featured two fourth-down conversions.

After completing hitting Clayton Warford for 11 yards on a third-and-10, Carraway scored from three yards out and after the two-point conversion failed, the Tigers were down 28-20 with just under four minutes to go.

Bells had a time-consuming drive to the Whitewright eight, but the Tigers took over on downs for a final chance to force overtime.

Kaden Pyle then came up with an interception to seal the victory for the Panthers.

District 8-3A (II)

Bells                   28

Whitewright        20