ARLINGTON — It’s been a special balance all year long for Mart.
The offense has torched opponents for nearly 60 points per game, while the defense has held opponents to barely more than a touchdown in each contest. On the biggest stage of the season, the Panthers didn’t change what got them to the Class 2A Division I state title game. Instead, Mart enhanced those strengths as the Panthers topped Refugio, 34-21, to claim its sixth state title and first since 2010.
“For our town, our school, our community to get our sixth state championship, all the coaches that have won in the past, Coach Nail that gave me a job in Mart, I can’t thank him enough,” Mart head football coach Kevin Hoffman said. “Everybody around the place has been unbelievable to me and my family. My wife has been unbelievable. Kind of at a loss. For us to have won a state championship, it’s unbelievable.”
While the ending brought dreams to reality, the beginning was a bit shaky for the Panthers. On Refugio’s first play from scrimmage, Jamel LaFond juked away from a defender and couldn’t be caught as the senior receiver took the ball 66 yards to the touchdown. That gave the Bobcats a 7-0 advantage merely 20 seconds into the game.
And after the Mart offense was forced to punt, it was quarterback Jared Kelley through the air again for Refugio as, this time, he connected with Jake Tinsman for a 42-yard score. At that point, Kelley was 2-for-2 through the air for 108 yards.
It seemed as if the Panthers would get on the scoreboard their next drive as they marched down to the Bobcat 21-yard line. However, Jace Terry’s pass to Anthony Sauceda fell short of the first down marker.
It wasn’t until 40 seconds into the second quarter that Mart scored when Shatydrick Bailey sprinted away from the defense for a 44-yard touchdown. And that set the tone for the rest of the second quarter as the Panthers dominated the frame.
The Mart defense forced Refugio to punt before using some trickery to cap off a 16 play drive. Facing 3rd-and-14, Jace Terry scrambled to his left before he looked back to his right and threw a dart to a wide open Tyrek Horne in the middle of the field for a first down. Five plays later, it seemed as if the Refugio defense forced the Panthers to settle for a field goal after three straight rushes from inside the six yard line were kept out of the end zone. But when Terry caught the snap, instead of holding it for the kick, he peeled off to his right and connected with a wide open Bailey for the touchdown that tied the game.
“I was a holder in college at Lamar University, and we ran that play and beat Stephen F. Austin one year,” Hoffman said. “When we were talking about doing fakes this year, that just popped up in my head. We call it ‘LU’ for Lamar University. We’ve been practicing that thing for three months. The kids are like, ‘Coach when are we going to run it?’ I told them we may never run it, but we may run it at the right time. From the one-yard line it was the right time. I felt it. I was going to let it rip no matter what. It worked out.”
Refugio looked to answer as the Bobcats went for it on 4th down by Roddrell Freeman and Elijah Green ended any chance of a continued Refugio drive as they sacked the quarterback for no gain.
At that point, there were 42 seconds left in the half. It was more than enough for the Panthers.
Jace Terry doesn’t get enough credit.
On the first play of the drive, Terry connected with Jalon Kirven who carried the ball all the way to the Bobcat one-yard line before Bailey ran it in himself to give the Panthers a 21-14 edge at the break.
“We settled down,” Hoffman said. “We’ve never played in this building. Probably 98 percent of my kids have never even seen this place. We knew if we could just weather the storm in the beginning that we could settle down and they would forget about all this other stuff and they would start playing. I can’t say enough about our defense and my quarterback made some unbelievable plays. Defense was outstanding again. Offense just made the plays when they had to make them.”
And in the second half, it was mostly defense for Mart. After giving up 125 yards on the first two Refugio drives, the Panthers held the Bobcats to 148 yards the rest of the game.
“Our defense has done that all year. Coach Martin and the defensive coaching staff are unbelievable. The work with these kids. We changed defenses two years ago. Coach (Don) Hyde at La Vega is the mastermind behind this whole thing. We went to what they do and tried to mimic what they do. Obviously he’s helped us a bunch. Our defensive coaching staff and our kids believe in what we do. They play their tails off.”
While the Panther defense held Refugio to one touchdown in the second half, Terry and the offense made the big plays in the fourth quarter when they were needed. With just over nine minutes to play in the game, the Panthers faced 4th-and-1 at their own 37-yard line. Terry found Jalon Kirven for 29 yards before connecting with Kirven again for a 29 yard touchdown.
Three minutes later, it was all Terry for 64 yards, with the help of outstanding downfield blocking.
Overall, Terry finished with 114 rush yards and 254 pass yards with 11 completions on 17 pass attempts for a total of three touchdowns.
“Haven’t really had to throw it very much,” Hoffman said. “The way our season went with the scores kind of getting out of hand quickly, we knew tonight we were going to have to throw the football to be successful against these guys. We’ve been hiding some stuff. We’ve been doing these things all year in practice, just haven’t pulled them out in a game. Tonight was the night.”
Shatydrick Bailey was named the offensive MVP with 90 rush yards and two scores along with a two-yard touchdown reception.
“He’s the smallest guy on our team. For a kid that’s 5-foot-3, 147 pounds, plays slot receiver, running back and defensive tackle, you know the story. He’s unbelievable. The kid’s going to play hard. He’s never going to give up. He’s that way in life. He’s not going to give up in anything he does.”
Jermaine Madkins was the defensive MVP with eight tackles.
As the Panthers celebrated on the field, Hoffman’s words at the beginning of the season at Lexington proved true.
“Last year, we went 12-0 and lost our last game in the playoffs,” Hoffman said. “This year we lost our first game. I told them on that field in Lexington that we’re going to flip it around. We did it. We ran off 15 straight and won a state championship. These kids, this community, these fans are unbelievable.”