The Lufkin News
NEW CANEY - Saturday was a unique situation for the Lufkin Panthers.
After playing 12 games decided by double-digit margins, the Panthers had yet to experience a nailbiter.
Well, Saturday’s game provided enough drama for an entire season - and that was just in the final minutes. In the end, Lufkin knocked off previously unbeaten Spring Westfield for a 14-11 victory at Texan Drive Stadium, sending the Panthers to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2005.
“I had every possible emotion you can have, from the highest to the lowest to the highest,” Lufkin head coach Todd Quick said. “But you’ve got to believe in the kids. You put them out there, and you know they’re going to do whatever they can. They made plays when they had to.”
The Panthers’ next game will be one that is all too familiar. Lufkin will face rival Longview for the 81st time. It will be the second meeting of the teams this season, and it will be the third postseason meeting between the team in four seasons.
The game is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Stephen F. Austin State University’s Homer Bryce Stadium in Nacogdoches.
But to get its rematch with Longview, Lufkin first had to hold off a formidable foe in Westfield.
Lufkin went into the fourth quarter with a 14-3 lead. On a third-down play that ended short of the first-down marker, Lufkin was called for holding. Instead of declining and forcing the punt, Westfield accepted the penalty, giving the Panthers another chance at the first down. Kewone Thomas connected with Rylee Holt for a 16-yard gain on third-and-12 to keep the drive alive.
The reception was Holt’s third of the game, and every one was a third-down conversion.
The first down allowed the Panthers to burn some more clock, trying to keep the ball away from the Mustangs, who were averaging 44.5 points per game in the playoffs entering Saturday.
Later in the drive, Thomas attempted a pass down the field, and it was intercepted by Westfield’s Dorien Hawkins, who returned the ball 33 yards down to the Lufkin 9. Three plays later, Edwin Allen ran in a 1-yard touchdown, and Terrance Gipson completed the 2-point conversion with a pass to Noah Massey to cut the score to 14-11 with 4:01 on the clock.
On third-and-1 on the ensuing drive, a bad snap resulted in a loss of 16 yards for the Panthers, forcing a punt. Max Quick booted the ball down the field, and Westfield called for a fair catch, but the ball got loose and was recovered by the Panthers. However, there was a penalty on the play.
After a long discussion by the officials, it was determined that one of the penalties was on the Panthers, but it was also ruled that a ball hit off of a Westfield player, and Westfield also had a penalty, allowing Lufkin to take the ball at the Westfield 43 with 2:38 remaining.
Lufkin ran the ball three times and prepared to punt with less than a minute to play. On the punt attempt, the snap went over Quick’s head, and he had to hurry to retrieve the ball. He finally picked it up in Lufkin territory, and before Westfield could get to him, he punted the ball down the field, and it was downed at the Westfield 19 with 40 seconds left, and the Mustangs had no timeouts.
On second down, Westfield had a 23-yard completion to get to the 42. On the next play, Jacourtney Calvin sacked Gipson, and Westfield finally spiked the ball with eight seconds left. Gipson then passed the ball to Massey, who decided to pitch the ball backward. The ball hit the ground, and when Westfield eventually fell on it, the time had expired to keep Lufkin’s season alive.
The story of the first half was Lufkin’s ability to control the clock. On their opening drive, the Panthers chewed up more than four minutes on a 14-play drive that included three third-down conversions. Lufkin was ultimately stopped on fourth down at the Westfield 24-yard line.
On Westfield’s first offensive play of the game, Gipson attempted a deep pass down the field, and it was intercepted by sophomore Jerrin Thompson.
Lufkin’s drive ended in a 42-yard field goal attempt that missed to the right.
After a scoreless first quarter, Lufkin took a 7-0 lead with a 7-yard pass from Thomas to Ja’Lynn Polk with 8:38 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers were back in the red zone later in the quarter, but Westfield’s Marcus Moore picked off a pass in the end zone.
Westfield marched down the field and converted a 25-yard field goal by Brandon Amaya with nine seconds on the clock to cut the Lufkin lead to 7-3 at halftime.
After stopping Westfield on the first drive of the second half, Lufkin had a 13-play drive that went 82 yards and lasted more than five minutes before ending with a 2-yard touchdown run by Phillips to make the score 14-3 with 3:39 left in the third quarter.
Phillips finished with 154 yards on 33 carries. He has rushed for more than 150 yards in all three playoff games and was a big reason the Panthers were able to control the clock. Lufkin had possession of the ball for more than 28 minutes in the game.
“He ran hard,” Quick said. “He ran harder than he’s run all year, and he’s run hard. The kid is not ready to stop playing, and he’s not the only one.”
“The offensive line did a great job opening up holes, and once they opened up holes, I just ran through them to try to get first downs,” Phillips said.
Lufkin finished with 230 yards on the ground as a team against Westfield, which had allowed an average of 58.5 rushing yards in its previous two postseason games.
A lot of Lufkin’s offensive success was a credit to an offensive line that features Hunter Hollis, Quynton Cole, Austin McKelvey, Andrew Ehrlich, Bryson Wilson and, last but not least, Brandon Wilson, who drew the assignment of four-star defensive tackle Keondre Coburn.
“They blocked those four guys, and those are four good guys, especially that one cat in the middle,” Quick said. “Brandon Wilson played his tail off all night long. That guy was right over his nose. Isaiah is good, but a lot of it is because of those offensive linemen. And when you can run the ball, you can do just about anything.”
Polk, a sophomore, had four catches for 61 yards. and Holt had three grabs for 33 yards - all third-down conversions for first downs.
Holt is among the players who has been asked to take on a larger role after receiver/defensive end Breylon Garcia suffered a season-ending injury in last week’s win over Richardson Pearce.
“Every day in practice, we talk about doing it for Breylon, and it made us work harder and harder,” Holt said. “You can see that it has paid off.”
The Panthers (11-2) held Westfield (11-1) to 61 yards rushing and 129 yards through the air.
Longview - Lufkin’s next opponent - picked up a 30-24 win over Klein Collins on Saturday.