BOWIE, Texas — Just about 700 programs in Texas punched their ticket to the postseason this week. With the emergence of many teams exceeding preseason expectations among this group — especially among the small schools — rematches are few and far between.
One of these opening round rematches however is sure to provide much intrigue, when the Windthorst Trojans and Bells Panthers square off a second time at Bowie’s Jackrabbit Stadium.
“Windthorst is a tradition rich team,” said Bells coach Scott Ponder, a state title winner at Petrolia in 2002. “I’ve known Coach [Chris] Tackett for many years. They’ll be well prepared, and their kids will play hard.”
The Panthers took a different path through the regular season than their opponent, jumping out to a 4-0 record heading into 6-2A DI play, but endured a couple rough hits to the chin in district competition.
“We were tied going into the fourth quarter with Celeste and we were leading going into the fourth with Valley View,” said Ponder. “I wouldn’t say we laid eggs in those losses. We hate that we have those losses of course, but we saw some things we needed to improve on in them. You get better learning from losses I think.”
Outside of the losses, Bells has dominated when victorious, with the offense averaging a whopping 55 points per win, and a defense pitching three shutouts. The offense has been led by the strong season performance of quarterback Bryan Ponder; the junior signal-caller lit up scoreboards all across Texoma with 3,696 yards and 47 touchdowns on 270 completions.
“He’s doing a good job, he does a good job of executing the offense and extending plays,” said the coach of his son. “He’s elusive in the pocket, and will scramble to throw if he has to. He’s probably one of the more improved players from last year.”
The Panthers are also helped by a steady stable of rushers, with four on the roster currently at more than 100 yards on the ground — Eli Strickland leads this bunch with eight touchdowns and 658 yards. The defense has also seen improvement, having three shutouts under their belt, compared to just one in all of 2016.
“We’re bigger and stronger defensively than we were in the past,” Ponder said. “We’re happy with where we’re at.”
Windthorst’s 5-5 overall record isn’t one to garner much attention, but the Trojans played strong football against a tough non-district slate, preparing them for a strong district showing. Windthorst started the season 0-2, but played strong Henrietta and Jacksboro teams close. The Trojans also gave Munday a tough matchup, sandwiched in between their two wins.
“We tried to schedule some good teams to get us ready for district and the playoffs,” said Windthorst coach Chris Tackett. “We weren’t too concerned about the losses in non-district.”
A new leaf was turned for district play however, with the offense scoring a combined 175 points in the first three district outings. Windthorst would drop the season finale to Seymour for the district title, but is still through to the playoffs for the eighth straight year.
“We knew it would probably come down to us and Seymour for district,” said Tackett. “It did, and they played a really good game. We had some miscues and close assignments, but I thought we did okay.”
The Trojans are led by a strong backfield duo of quarterback Hunter Wolf and rusher Koy Pennartz; the junior signal-caller commands the offense well, racking up 1,973 yards and 22 touchdowns, while Pennartz grinds down opposing defenses with 1,740 yards and 20 scores on the season.
“Koy is our go-to guy, a really good runner,” said the coach. “We lean on him heavily to move the ball. And when he has success, that opens up the field for Hunter to throw the ball out there for our wideouts.”
Windthorst knocked off the Panthers last season with a 35-13 win, but part two has the potential of being a shootout with improvements on both teams.
“They have a really good team,” said Tackett of the opponent. “They got a lot of quality players back from last year who gave us some trouble. They’re a year older and a year wiser, we’ll have our hands full with them.”
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