Bells ready to go for another rematch as Holliday next in region semis

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Bells' Brock Baker tackles Eastland's Hunter Lee in the Panthers' area-round victory last week.

BELLS — Two seasons ago, the Panthers put together a run rarely seen in the program’s history.

It was a dominant stretch covering more than two months which came to an end in the region semifinals against the eventual state runner-up, success built on the backs of so many sophomores that it seemed like an encore was almost a guarantee.

But a deep playoff run is never easy, and a repeat performance in 2020 came up one round short. Standing in the way of the Panthers this year was that same team — Eastland — and the blowout victory by Bells might just have been the start of a revenge tour with a couple more dates available.

Another familiar face is standing in the way of Bells making some history, but for the Panthers it seems par for the course.

“It’s not the first time we’ve done this. We have great senior leadership,” BHS head coach Dale West said. “They know what’s on the table. They know it’s a special year.”

One more victory will send the Panthers into uncharted territory as Bells (9-3) faces Holliday (12-0) in a Class 3A Division II Region II semifinal at 3 p.m. on Friday at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex in Denton.

“They’re a dang good team and they’ve been here four or five times. Really well-coached with a bunch of tough kids,” West said. “We’re glad we’re here and they’re going to get our best effort.”

The winner will face either Gunter or Dublin in the region final next week.

While it is the second time in three seasons, and third overall, that the Panthers have made the region semis, they have yet to advance to the region final. A win would not only accomplish that it would also be just the third time in school history to reach double-digit wins.

And just like Bells had to prepare for the team which eliminated it from the playoffs last season, now the Panthers take on an opponent which beat them two-and-half months ago when Holliday earned a 27-14 victory in Week 4.

 “Our kids believe we have a shot,” West said. “Last time was pretty close. Tied 14-14 into the fourth quarter and we had a chance to go score after they scored to take the lead.

“We do a little different this time — we complete a tackle here, we make a block there, then it’s a different story.”

Facing an opponent for the third time in a little more than year helps the planning process. A blueprint can be formed from tangible evidence compare to the hypothetical when facing an unknown quantity.

“What it does for us offensively, we don’t have to wonder what we’ll get defensively,” West said. “What we do is so different that sometimes people totally change things defensively and it’s not what they do on film.”

Bells knew what it was getting into with Eastland during the area round and the Panthers emerged with a 67-37 victory, producing the most points since an 83-0 win over Trenton in 2017.

Grady Waldrip had 26 carries for 146 yards and three touchdowns, Brock Baker finished with 14 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown, Bo Baker totaled 96 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries and Blake Rolen gained 115 yards and a TD on seven carries as Bells earned 565 yards on 68 carries. It was the ninth win of the season, making it the third straight year with that many — a first for the program.

But for all the production on the ground against the Mavericks, it wasn’t about big plays. Bells gained five yards or less on 42 of the 68 rushes. There were a couple of long runs but the Panthers weren’t relying on them.

“That’s the formula, especially against Holliday,” West said. “You have to grind out yards. We’ve got to be able to do that.”

Holliday returned to the region semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons with a last-minute touchdown drive for a 35-28 victory against Bells’ districtmate Leonard.

Jaxx Johnson had a one-yard TD run with 1:18 left in response to Leonard tying the game at 28 with just under five minutes remaining.

Peyton Marchand ran 12 times for 114 yards for two touchdowns and completed 9-of-14 passes for 181 yards and a score, Austin Jones had a TD on the ground to go with three catches for 100 yards and a score and Johnson finished with 10 carries for 61 yards.

Leonard managed to put up the most points allowed by Holliday, which had allowed a pair of touchdowns six times for its season-high and not allowed more than 16 points until facing the Tigers.

On the season, Marchand has completed 65-of-126 passes for 1,034 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions.

The Eagles normally lean on their running game — eight players have at least 19 carries and three touchdowns. Jones has 83 carries for 684 yards and 12 TDs while Johnson is at 94 carries for 608 yards and 10 touchdowns. Marchand has only 42 carries but 11 touchdowns.

The final score against Leonard was just the second time Holliday hasn’t won by double-digits, joining a season-opening 20-14 win over Iowa Park.

“Leonard really got after them. They had a chance to win it,” West said. “They physically did a great job and we know we’re going to have to as well.”

Class 3A Division II Region II Semifinals

What: Bells vs. Holliday

When: 3 p.m. Friday

Where: C.H. Collins Athletic Complex in Denton