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Eastland knocks out Bells in second round

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Eastland's Collin Ware tackles Bells' Grady Waldrip during a Class 3A Division II Region II area round game at Boyd. Waldrip finished with 174 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.

BOYD — The Panthers knew if they were going to have a chance against an Eastland offense which had scored at least 50 points in seven of its last eight games, punting was not an option.

But as Bells tried to lengthen possessions and limit opportunities for the Mavericks, it wasn't able to convert when those fourth-down situations arrived.

And despite the Panthers rushing 76 times and coming a handful of yards short of three 100-yard rushers, it was those stops on crucial downs by Eastland that helped the Mavericks come away with a 49-22 victory over Bells in a Class 3A Division II Region II area round game.

"We've been aggressive all year," Panthers head coach Dale West said. "It wasn't going to be much of a difference if we punted and pushed them back 25 yards. This was a tough match-up for us. They're a tough team to defend."

Eastland (9-3) will face Holliday in the region semifinals. The Mavericks are in the third round for the second time in three seasons and have won nine straight games.

Grady Waldrip had 31 carries for 174 yards and two touchdowns, Bo Baker chipped in 18 carries for 94 yards to go with a 41-yard reception, Brock Baker totaled 93 yards and 21 carries and Blake Rolen ran for a touchdown for Bells (9-3), which was trying to make the region semifinals for the second straight season.

"I told the seniors in their final 21 ballgames we went 17-4 and the losses were to the defending state champion, the state runner-up and two region semifinalists. There's some good football teams right there," West said. "Those seniors helped leave a strong foundation. The future's bright."

Behren Morton, who is committed to Texas Tech, totaled 113 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries and completed 17-of-30 passes for 190 yards and a TD while Brandon Fielding ran 16 times for 176 yards and three touchdowns and Payton McClain caught nine passes for 109 yards and a touchdown for Eastland.

The Mavericks put the game out of reach when they scored on their first three drives of the second half and came up with a pair of fourth-down stops and a turnover the first three times the Panthers took possession in the third quarter.

Fielding leaped over the pile from a yard out on fourth-and-goal to cap Eastland's opening series after half-time and then the Panthers came up a yard short on fourth-and-four near midfield.

The next Maverick drive saw another fourth-down conversion in the red zone and Morton scored on a 14-yard run for a 35-8 advantage.

When Bells went for it again on fourth down at the Eastland 31, the Mavericks stuffed the attempt. Morton eventually scored on a two-yard run in the closing minutes of the third.

Eastland recovered a fumble at the Bells 31 but couldn't cash in the turnover — Dylan Wilson stretched for the goal line after a 22-yard catch and fumbled. Jaden Nelson recovered, returned it 24 yards and a penalty tacked on another 15.

But the Panthers stalled and were again stopped on downs at the Eastland 37. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Fielding went 63 yards to close out the Mavericks' scoring.

The Panthers scored on their final two drives. Rolen plunged into the end zone on a four-yard keeper and then Waldrip had a one-yard TD run in the final minute.

Bells had put together some positive momentum in latter half of the second quarter.

The Panthers got on the board with a 10-play drive that covered 75 yards. Rolen hit Bo Baker on a wheel route down the right sideline for a 41-yard pickup to the Mavericks 20 and four plays later Waldrip broke through the left side for a nine-yard touchdown. He pushed the pile on the two-point conversion to make it 21-8 heading into the locker room.

Eastland scored on three straight possessions and took advantage of some fourth-down stops to get there.

The first was the biggest as the Panthers opened the game with a strong drive. The Panthers had first-and-goal at the 10 before a five-yard penalty. They eventually went for it on fourth-and-goal from the five but Bo Baker was brought down at the one to end the six-minute drive.

Eastland covered the 99 yards in 16 plays with Morton capping it on a one-yard sneak for the 7-0 advantage with 2:21 left in the first.

On its second possession, Bells went for it on fourth-and-six at its own 40 and managed just a yard. The Mavericks went and scored six plays later when Morton hit McClain at the goal line for a 23-yard TD less than a minute into the second quarter.

Eastland took over just past midfield following a punt and Morton converted a fourth-and-seven with a 22-yard scramble to the Bells 11. Fielding followed with a seven-yard TD run with 5:57 left in the half for the 21-0 advantage.

Area Round

Class 3A Division II Region II

Eastland                    49

Bells                          22