ARLINGTON — History has been the driving factor for these Mart Panthers. Everywhere they look in a town of 2,209 people, the Panthers are reminded of the golden opportunity that lays before them.
There’s a sign as you enter town, a mural on the side of a cafe, another sign in front of the school. It’s painted on the press box and team pictures hang in the gym.
Despite the 11 state championship game appearances and previous six state titles, Mart had never won back-to-back state championships.
That all changed Wednesday night at AT&T Stadium, as the Panthers made history as they toppled Gruver, 76-33, to claim the Class 2A Division II state title after they won the Class 2A Division I state championship a year ago.
“It feels amazing,” Mart head coach Kevin Hoffman said. “This team worked for this since last year at this time when we won the state championship. This was one of the goals that this team had. They worked all spring, all summer, all two-a-days. Now it’s paid off.
“Just an amazing feeling to do something in the storied history of Mart football that no one’s been able to do. It’s been done now. We feel wonderful.”
It wasn’t just school history these Panthers made. No, before the first half ended, senior running back Tyrek Horne set a new Class 2A state title game record with six rushing touchdowns.
At halftime, Mart had already established a new Class 2A state title game record with 63 points.
Less than two minutes into the second half, the Panthers tied the overall UIL state title game record with 70 points before they revised the record with a 22-yard run by Keishawn Clater with 1:56 left in the game.
“All the records are great,” Hoffman said. “Records are made to be broken. I’m sure those records will be broken. It’s just amazing that we broke all those records. The score, again, these kids are amazing. I can’t say enough about them.”
The party got started when Horne scored from 16 yards out 11 seconds after Mart began its first drive after a recovered fumble. Less than two minutes later, it was Roddrell Freeman who barreled his way into the end zone.
Another Horne run, this one for three yards, put Mart up by 20.
Gruver got on the board with 3:20 to play in the first quarter before Horne scored for the third time on the night from 59 yards out.
Gruver answered that score with a 42-yard touchdown reception, but Mart answered right back thanks to Freeman, as he ran with a Greyhound defender hanging off his back for around eight yards.
Horne would score three more times in the second quarter (for 44, 52 and 38 yards) before Shatydrick Bailey recorded his first touchdown of the night, a 3-yard scamper.
In fitting fashion, it was Horne who scored the touchdown that led up to Elijah Green’s PAT tying the overall state title game record of 70 points scored in a game.
Horne, the game’s Offensive MVP, finished with 12 carries for 291 yards and seven touchdowns. He broke the Class 2A state title game record for rushing yards.
“He was amazing,” Hoffman said. “Last year, I didn’t even think about who was doing what and who was scoring or who was making plays. After the fact, it ate at me that Tyrek’s been the kind of player he is. He is the most unselfish player that I’ve ever been around. A great kid. He didn’t get in the end zone last year. I kind of felt bad. I wanted to try to get him in there at least once.
“I thought he was going to have a chance with the way they play defense and what we could do on offense. I felt like he could have a special night. We just kept giving him the ball and he kept scoring.”
Jacob Ybarra received the Defensive MVP honor, as he had a team-high 6.5 tackles to go with two interceptions and four pass breakups.
In total, Mart set a new overall state championship game record with 555 yards.
This state championship is extra special, besides the fact that the Panthers stacked two in a row. Mart lost its starting quarterback Kyler Martin to injury before the state semifinal game. On Monday, backup quarterback Aiden Gast suffered a heart attack at practice. The coaches revived him and the ambulance was called. He was at the game on Wednesday.
“It was very scary, but I’ve got a great coaching staff,” Hoffman said. “They stepped up and took care of what needed to be taken care of.”
Mart is now one of eight schools in the state of Texas to win at least seven football state championships. And this Panther team is the first one to go back-to-back in Mart history. Mission accomplished.