District title in hand, the Lufkin Panthers took care of their final regular-season business with a workmanlike effort that resulted in a 42-14 win over the Waller Bulldogs on Friday night.
With the win, the Panthers had plenty to be proud of. The win was Lufkin’s 18th straight in district, a mark that dates back to when it was in the Houston-area 6A district in 2017.
It also capped a run of unbeaten back-to-back District 8-5A DI titles.
The victory gave the Panthers their second straight 9-1 regular season that was finished with nine straight victories.
All of those are nice items for the Panthers to check off their list. They’re also ones they weren’t overly concerned with when they went back to work on Saturday morning.
The Panthers will start the “second season” at home against Texas High on Friday night. Lufkin earned that home game thanks to winning the district title.
Now they’ll look to take advantage just like they did in a 50-27 win over McKinney North last season.
The Panthers are the No. 5 team in the state headed into the playoffs, meaning they are legitimate contenders on any night. However, they also remember how last year’s season ended in a 49-21 setback to Lone Star in the second round.
They’ve waited a full year for a second chance. Now they’ll get it.
First, here is a look back at Friday’s win.
Offense — The Panthers know what kind of playmaker they lost when Ja’Lynn Polk went down with an injury. They also know it will be a joint effort in replacing his production.
They took a step in the right direction on Friday night when six different players caught passes.
Kelton Wright was the star this time around with five catches for 133 yards and a touchdown after Christian Reggie left the game early.
Samuel Flack caught his first touchdown pass of the season and A.J. Montgomery made a nice 40-yard touchdown reception.
Caleb Berry led the ground game with 88 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
Behind the entire offense was another big night from Jordan Moore, who finished with 280 yards and three touchdowns on 15-of-24 passing. He’ll need big-time performances in the playoffs for Lufkin to make a legitimate run.
Defense — The Panthers were surprised on the opening play of the night when Mason Stewart hauled in a 71-yard touchdown pass. That was followed by a 46-yard drive that ended with a missed field goal.
That proved to be the only real production on the night for Waller, which was held to 50 yards the rest of the way before Waller’s last touchdown drive against Lufkin’s backups.
Tre Odom continued his spectacular senior season with another interception and Lufkin didn’t let the early quick strike affect its confidence.
The Panthers enter the playoffs with a stellar defense leading the way. It has allowed just 13 points per contest, with even some of that coming late in blowout wins. For the season, Lufkin has allowed 31 first-half points.
Willis was held to 75 yards on 27 carries while throwing for 178 yards on 20 attempts.
The intensity goes up next week when a tough Texas High team comes to town. The Panthers should be ready.
Special teams — It was another solid night by the Lufkin special teams as it allowed a total of 71 yards on four kickoff returns, keeping Waller driving on long fields.
Antonio Encarnacion took over the punting duties and averaged 33.5 yards on his two attempts.
He also knocked through all six extra points.
Lufkin will open the playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday against Texas high in a game that will be played on John Outlaw Memorial Field at Abe Martin Stadium.