FAIRFIELD — The No. 2 Mart Panthers forced five first-half turnovers and cruised to a Class 2A Division II regional round win over the Grapeland Sandies, 59-8, on Friday afternoon at Fairfield’s Eagle Stadium. The Panthers move on to face the Muenster Hornets in the state quarterfinals next week in Mansfield.
The Sandies (10-3) lost the ball on three fumbles, two interceptions and a turnover on downs on a bad snap on a punt. Mart (10-3) turned that into a 35-0 lead midway through the second quarter and 47-0 at the half on a drizzly, rainy Black Friday afternoon.
The Panther defense set the tone early when Klyderion Campbell scooped up a B.J. Lamb fumble and returned it inside the Sandies 30-yard line. Mart went to the daunted rushing attack and Roddrell Freeman finished the drive with a 1-yard run and a 6-0 lead after the missed extra point.
Grapeland had some trouble moving the ball, and Mart’s defense was led by Kyler Martin, who was injured in this game last year.
“It was awesome to see him out there today,” Mart coach Kevin Hoffman said. “With the work he has put in and the time it took to get ready to play this season, his knee was the last thing he was concerned about, only winning the game today.”
Disaster struck the Grapeland offense on a third down at the Sandies 32-yard line when Lamb was trying throw the ball out of bounds. Da’marion Medlock picked it from the air and raced up the far sideline for the touchdown. Freeman added the conversion run for the 14-0 lead.
Mart would take advantage of another Sandie mistake when Keizion Ashford stepped back in punt formation and the low snap forced his knee to touch. The 15-yard loss put Mart on the field at the Grapeland 10. Martin connected with Da’traevion Medlock for the one-play drive and score for the 21-0 lead.
Grapeland drove downfield and picked up a couple of first downs but the drive ended with a Dillon Lundy interception and the Panthers took over on their own 15-yard line. It took 10 plays and the Panthers converted their third turnover into points on a Martin six-yard run for the 28-0 lead in the early moments of the second quarter.
The Panthers added two more scores soon in the quarter on a Freeman 45-yard run and the fifth turnover of the game on a Martin interception that ended with a second Freeman score to increase the lead to 41-0.
Kei’shawn Clater entered to run the offense for the Panthers and scored on a 61-yard touchdown run to finish a dominating 47-0 halftime lead.
Martin and Da’traevion Medlock connected for a third-quarter touchdown and Robert Hickman had a three-yard score to build the gap to 59-0 with 9:33 remaining in the game.
Grapeland put together a drive and put points up to eliminate the shutout with a Lamb six-yard run and he completed the conversion pass to set the final score at 59-8.
“Our town and school have expectations, and we tell out players to live up to those high expectations,” Hoffman said. “Since these kids were fourth, fifth and sixth graders, being the ball boys and water boys, they have seen Mart football and this is what the hard work and dedication become with wins in the playoffs.”