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Baker helps Bells bounce back in a big way

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Bells' Bo Baker ran for 244 yards and three touchdowns on just eight carries in the District 8-3A (II) opener against Leonard.

BELLS — Any thought the Panthers would overlook Leonard went by the wayside the moment they got on the buses for their long trip home from their first loss of the season.

When the schedule came out everybody wanted to circle the game against defending state champ Gunter and how it would affect the standings between two teams that won district titles last season.

A loss to Holliday after three wins, the last two by a combined 70 points, forced Bells to refocus.

“I was really proud of the way the kids responded,” Panthers head coach Dale West said. “We told the kids we’d see the true character and heart of the team.”

Following a hiccup on its opening drive, Bells then reached the end zone on six consecutive possessions for a 42-14 victory over Leonard in the District 8-3A (II) opener.

Bo Baker had eight carries for 244 yards and three touchdowns — almost all of it in the first half — while Kaden Pyle added three carries for 113 yards and a TD, Grady Waldrip finished with nine carries for 67 yards and a touchdown and Brock Baker totaled 65 yards and a score on 14 carries for Bells (4-1, 1-0), which plays at Gunter on Friday.

“One of the things about this group, we’re going to play the same way if we’re 10-0 or 0-10,” Bo Baker said. “I knew we’d bounce back. That’s one of the things about us. You can stop one but it’s hard to stop all three.”

D.J. Brown ran for 138 yards on 24 carries and completed 14-of-25 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown, Josh Barlagne added 11 carries for 68 yards and a TD and Cameron Armstrong totaled six catches for 78 yards and a touchdown for Leonard (2-1, 0-1), which has the district bye Friday before hosting Gunter on Oct. 9.

The Panthers ran on all but one of their 51 snaps and rolled up 528 yards on the ground.

“We executed really well. They got challenged up last week,” West said. “They were doing some stuff early defensively that we had to adjust to.”

It didn’t take long for Bells to make the needed changes. And after building a 28-0 half-time lead, the Panthers opened the third quarter with a nearly five-minute drive capped by Brock Baker’s 21-yard TD run up the middle.

Leonard got on the board on the ensuing drive when Barlagne scored from a yard out. Brown kept the drive alive with a 17-yard pass to Tyson Burgess on fourth-and-nine from the Bells 42.

But the Panthers responded just two snaps later when Pyle broke free around the right end on a 65-yard touchdown run for a 42-7 advantage with 3:09 to go in the third quarter.

The Tigers tacked on a TD when Brown connected with Armstrong on a 40-yard pass deep down the right sideline with 5:47 remaining.

“You can’t just stop a guy like him,” West said of Brown. “You try to limit the big, explosive plays.”

Bells did that for the most part — 18 of Brown’s 24 carries were for six yards or less.

“Overall I think our plan was pretty good. Our goal was to get them to throw as much as possible,” senior defensive lineman Hank Weaver said. “We knew what their offense could do. I think we prepared well for them.”

After the Panthers turned the ball over on downs just past midfield on that opening possession, the final four drives of the half ended with TDs.

Baker got the scoring started with a 71-yard run along the right sideline. It was a touchdown which came three snaps after he had been intercepted by Burgess off a half-back pass but Leonard was offsides and it nullified the turnover.

Pyle kicked off the next TD drive with a 38-yard run before he caught only throw by Blake Rolen — a 16-yard pass on third-and-13 — and two plays later Waldrip had a 21-yard TD with a nice cut back to the right for a 14-0 advantage with 9:31 remaining in the half.

Bells was backed up to its five-yard-line the next time it had the ball but after Brock Baker just got a first down on a third-and-eight run, Bo Baker raced 77 yards on the next play with his second TD, shaking off a pair of tackles well downfield to get it.

The Panthers went ahead 28-0 when Bo Baker burst through the right side untouched on a 55-yard run with 2:06 to go in the second quarter.

"I take my social distancing very seriously," he said about a first half where he had six carries for 208 yards and Bells went into the locker room with 309 yards on 21 carries.

“Bo made some big-time runs in a big-time game,” West said. “That’s exactly what big-time players are supposed to do.”

Leonard had six possessions in the first half and four of them reached Bells territory, including inside the 15-yard line.

Brown carried on the final three plays of Leonard’s second drive but was stuffed after gaining a yard on fourth-and-three at the Bells nine.

Two series later Leonard faced fourth-and-eight at the Bells 12 but Brown’s throw to a diving Armstrong in front of the first-down marker on the right sideline was incomplete in the middle of the second quarter.

Down by four touchdowns in the final two minutes of the half, the Tigers put together a drive and were at the Bells 27-yard line with 30 seconds until the break but two incompletions, a sack and an attempt receiver pass ended the half.

District 8-3A (II)

Bells;42

Leonard;14