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Mabank dominates Athens in rematch
By Kerry Yancey
Monitor Staff Writer

CORSICANA–The first game against the Athens Hornets was considered, in some ways, Mabank’s worst game.

Monitor Photo/Kerry Yancey
Mabank Panthers hoist a bidistrict championship trophy into the air after defeating the Athens Hornets 29-14 Saturday in Corsicana’s Tiger Stadium.

The Panthers dominated the rematch at Corsicana’s Tiger Stadium Saturday night, defeating the Hornets 29-14 and collecting a bidistrict championship trophy in the process.
Going into the contest, Mabank head coach Jimmy Cantrell noted field position worked against the Panthers all night in their 20-14 loss to the Hornets in the second game of the season Sept. 7, and said Mabank would have to force some three-and-outs.
They did that, all right.
The Hornets (5-6) converted just two of 10 third-down opportunities, while the Panthers converted 10 of 17 third-down situations, enabling them to stay on the field – Mabank ran 81 plays from scrimmage, compared to 50 plays for the Hornets.
Athens converted two of three fourth-down situations (one via penalty), while the Panthers (6-5) converted two of four fourth-down plays.
“The defense forced some three-and-outs, and we won the field position battle,” Cantrell said afterward. “Overall, I was very pleased with the effort of our kids – they kept their head in the game.”

Monitor Photo/Kerry Yancey
Mabank junior quarterback Kolton Browning (14) dashes through the Athens defensive line behind blocks from Bobby Gaddis (54) and Brandon Rasco (27) for a 20-yard gain to the Athens 13 during the second quarter of the Panthers’ 29-14 win Saturday. Browning finished with 190 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.

Ball control is not something usually associated with the quick-strike spread offense the Panthers use, but they ran the ball effectively behind their offensive line against Athens’ big and talented defense.
Junior quarterback Kolton Browning, who didn’t run in the first Athens game, collected 190 yards on 25 carries, including touchdown runs of 59 and six yards, while junior Brandon Rasco added 79 yards on 19 carries.
Overall, the Panthers averaged just under six yards per rushing attempt, while the Hornets, who were known as a running team, averaged only 3.3 yards per carry, if one doesn’t count a 19-yard loss on a high punt snap out of the end zone.
Oh yeah, special teams. The Panthers won that battle, too, as sophomore kicker Michael Blackburn nailed field goals of 25 and 27 yards.
The Panthers only punted once, while forcing the Hornets to punt five times – and one of those, on the first Athens possession of the second half, resulted in the aforementioned high snap and a safety for the Panthers.
“It was a very physical game,” Cantrell said. “Both teams got beat up pretty good.

Monitor Photo/Kerry Yancey
Blake Rambo (1) motors around right end on a reverse to score a touchdown against the Athens Hornets Saturday. Rambo’s two-yard TD run gave the Panthers a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter, and Mabank went on to defeat Athens 29-14 to capture a bidistrict championship trophy.

“Everything was working for us, and it’s the right time of the year for that,” he added. “It’s going to be progressively more difficult from now on.”
In a matchup of two good teams, the team that makes the fewest mistakes probably will win, but Mabank made the first mistake when senior Austin Daugherty coughed up the ball at the Panther 45 on the third play of the game.
The Panther defense was up to the challenge, however, and forced a three-and-out.
On fourth-and-six at the Mabank 39, Hornet quarterback Chase Knighton’s pooch kick went just 15 yards, giving Mabank the ball back at their 24.
The Panthers then put together their first scoring drive, moving 76 yard in just six plays – the big one being a third-down 59-yard scoring gallop by Browning on a quarterback draw with 6:36 left in the first quarter.
Blackburn hit the first of three PAT kicks to give the Panthers a lead they never relinquished.
Athens muffed the ensuing kickoff, getting no runback, and Mabank’s defense then came up with another big play.
On third-and-nine at the Athens 37, Knighton’s deep pass was intercepted by Panther sophomore Darious Robertson, who returned the theft 40 yards to the midfield stripe.
The Panthers were unable to capitalize on the turnover, as Browning’s fourth-down quarterback sneak came up one link short on the chain, giving the Hornets possession at their 26.
Hornet running back Kerry Gamble obligingly fumbled the ball right back, with Panther sophomore Jacob Walker recovering at the 33.
Browning got the Panthers closer with a 20-yard run, but on fourth-and-five at the Hornet 8, Mabank settled for Blackburn’s first field goal and a 10-0 lead with 1:56 left in the first quarter.
Mabank’s defense force another three-and-out, and the Panthers put together another scoring drive, moving 69 yards in 11 plays.
Key plays in the march included a 10-yard pass to Haydon Blair, runs of 20 and seven yards by Browning and an 18-yard dash by Rasco up the middle to the Hornet 3.
On second-and-goal, the Panthers fooled the Hornets with a reverse to Blake Rambo, who scored untouched from two yards out.
Blackburn’s PAT kick made it a 17-0 lead with 8:15 left in the first half.
The Hornets came back with their first sustained drive, moving 64 yards in 12 plays, aided greatly by two personal-foul penalties against the Panthers and a very questionable pass-interference call in the end zone.
Athens overcame a personal-foul penalty with a 17-yard run by Dexter Warfield, and a roughing-the-passer penalty set up first-and-goal at the Mabank 5.
After the pass-interference call gave the Hornets a first down at the Mabank 2, it took the Hornets four plays to score.
On fourth down, Knighton rolled to his right and found Anthony Crayton in the end zone for the touchdown.
Nick Gates added the PAT kick to make it a 17-7 Mabank lead.
The Panthers began another lengthy march, moving 40 yards in 10 plays, helped greatly by a running-into-the-kicker penalty against the Hornets that gave Mabank new life at the Athens 45.
An outstanding catch of a tipped pass by Blair set the Panthers up with first down at the Athens 30, but with time running out, Mabank tried a 42-yard field goal attempt by Blackburn.
The kick was wide left and short, and Dhe’Ryan Jackson brought the Athens crowd to its feet with a runback to near midfield as the halftime horn sounded.
Athens went nowhere on their first possession of the second half, and on fourth down, the snap to punter Ray Knight was way over his head, rolling out of the end zone for a safety.
A personal foul penalty against the Hornets on the ensuing free kick (Athens was flagged four times for personal fouls in the second half) gave the Panthers excellent field position at the Athens 45, but the drive stalled at the Hornet 28 when Blair was unable to make a fourth-down catch.
The Hornets then stunned the Panther defense with a big play, as Knighton found Negale Miller on the Mabank sideline for a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Knight’s PAT kick made it a five-point game, 19-14, with 7:43 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers responded with another lengthy march, moving from their 13 to the Athens 20 in 10 plays.
Key plays in the march included an eight-yard pass to Dewayne Hamilton, a one-yard third-down plunge by Browning, a seven-yard run by Rasco and a 10-yard pass to Blair that had a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty tacked on.
On third-and-five at the 20, Rasco fumbled, with Hornet Stephen Blakemore recovering at the Athens 19.
Once again, the Hornets were forced to punt. Knight got off a towering 56-yard effort, but he outkicked his coverage.
Receiver Davis Kiker returned the kick 22 yards to give the Panthers good field position again at their 44, but Mabank was forced into their only punt of the contest, a 31-yard effort by Rasco that Miller returned to the Athens 45.
The Hornets were unable to take advantage of the good field position, as a sack by Panther senior Travisdale Barker (a former Kemp standout) forced them to punt.
Mabank then put together a 90-yard scoring march, taking 11 plays.
Key plays in the drive included a 13-yard run by Browning (with a 15-yard spearing penalty tacked on), back-to-back five-yard penalties against the Hornets, and the big play, a second-and-15 throw deep to Kiker.
Kiker caught the ball with a defender hanging all over him for a 44-yard gain to the Hornet 8.
On fourth-and-goal at the Athens 10, Blackburn nailed his second field goal, a 27-yarder, to give the Panthers a 22-14 lead with 8:22 left to play.
Athens had to score quickly to get back in the game, and Knighton began looking for Miller, hitting him twice for gains of 10 and 12 yards.
However, the next two Knighton passes gained just six yards, and a third-down run by Warfield got nothing.
On fourth-and-four at midfield, Knighton rolled out right. Although he could have easily run for the first down, Knighton chose to throw to Miller, but the throw was behind him and incomplete, giving Mabank possession with just 5:29 to play.
Needing to run some clock, the Panthers did better, marching 49 yards for a touchdown in 10 plays.
Key plays in the march included a 17-yard pass to Hamilton (converting a third down), and Browning runs of nine (converting a fourth down), four, 10 and the scoring run from six yards out.
Blackburn’s PAT kick made it 29-14 with just 1:45 left to play, and the Hornets had to gamble.
On the ensuing possession, the Hornets appeared to stall at their 35 on three straight incompletions, and also lost Knighton, who was hurt when hit hard on the fourth-down throw.
A five-yard penalty against the Panthers gave them new life, sort of, because a Hornet protesting the hit against Knighton was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected from the game.
So, even though Athens gained a first down, they actually lost 10 yards – back to their 25 – and were facing a first-and-25 with just 1:18 to play and backup quarterback Taylor Jackson under center.
Jackson gained 22 yards on a pass to Jacob Norsworthy and an 11-yard run, but his third-down pass was intercepted by Panther senior linebacker Justin Crowsey at midfield.
Browning knelt once to run out the final 31 seconds, and the Panthers began celebrating.

Panthers to face Gilmer Buckeyes in area round
Monitor Staff Reports
MABANK–One round down.
The second round of the playoffs looks to be more difficult, as the Mabank Panthers face the unbeaten and top-ranked Gilmer Buckeyes for the Division I area championship.
Game time is 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, at the 15,000-seat Homer Bryce Stadium on the Stephen F. Austin State University campus in Nacogdoches.
Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for students at the gate.
“Gilmer is the top-ranked team, and it’s for a reason,” Mabank head coach Jimmy Cantrell said Monday. “They are a well-coached, physical, very good football team in all phases of the game.”
Cantrell said the 11-0 Buckeyes “are the best team I’ve seen on film all year.”
“They’re very big up front and quick,” he added. “They have a huge offensive line, and they’re very disciplined.
“Defensively, they run to the ball very well,” Cantrell said.
On the positive side, the Panthers have already faced teams like this in pre-district contests. Rockwall Heath, for example, had a huge offensive line and ran a lot from the spread formation.
“Their (Gilmer’s) offensive line is very comparable to Heath’s, although Gilmer might have an edge there,” Cantrell said. “But, we’ve seen teams like this.”
Having faced very talented 4A teams in the pre-district schedule, such as Whitehouse (still going in the 4A playoffs) should help the Panthers avoid the glamour the Buckeyes might use to dazzle a lesser team.
“That may be a big plus for us,” Cantrell said. “We ran a tough pre-season, and we’ve gotten better every week.”
Gilmer carries a big crowd to every game, and Cantrell said the Panthers will need every supporter to attend.
“We’ll need to play a perfect game,” he said.
Directions to Homer Bryce Stadium: From Mabank, take U.S. Highway 175 east to Jacksonville, then turn right (south) on U.S. 69 to Alto. In Alto, turn left (east) on State Highway 21 and follow it to Nacogdoches.
Stay on SH 21 in Nacogdoches, as it turns into Main Street, and follow it through downtown. The first major intersection on the other side of the downtown area will be University Drive. Turn left on University. Follow University to E. College Street, and take another left. The stadium will be on your right.
Parking behind the stadium can be accessed by taking a right on Raguet (at a four-way stop) and then take the first right on Hayter Street.
Driving time will be between three and four hours, depending on U.S. 175 construction and traffic congestion.


Upcoming games

Girls basketball

Nov. 27
KHS vs Grand Saline
EHS @ Malakoff

Nov. 29-Dec. 1
MHS @ Wills Point tourn.
KHS @ Edgewood tourn.
EHS Roundball Roundup

Dec. 4
MHS @ Royse City
KHS @ Quitman
EHS vs LaPoynor

Dec. 7
MHS @ Cross Roads
KHS @ Fairfield tourn.
EHS @ ET Shoot-Out
Boys basketball

Nov. 27
MHS vs Van
KHS vs Fairfield
EHS vs Malakoff

Nov. 29-Dec. 1
MHS hosts CC Shoot-out
KHS @ Quinlan Ford tourn.
EHS @ Edgewood tourn.

Dec. 4
MHS @ Rains
KHS vs Scurry-Rosser
EHS vs LaPoynor