Sports Writer: Brent Cook
September 22, 2021
With a mix of big offensive plays and bruising defensive stands last Friday night at Wildcat Stadium, the #1 ranked Mart Panthers proved why they are one of the most powerful football programs in Texas.
“When I took this job, I told our program that we were going to play top contenders in the pre-season as it gives us a chance to play good folks,” said Whitney Head Coach Mark Byrd. “At the same time we can use it as a teaching tool for both good and bad.”
Whitney came out firing, but an interception on the opening drive put the Panthers in position for the first score. The Wildcats responded with a touchdown run from senior Orrin Green near the end of the first frame, but the Panthers quickly kicked it into another gear and never looked back, cruising to a 48-13 victory.
The win puts Mart at 4-0 and establishes the Panthers once again as a playoff favorite in classification 2A. Mart has outscored its opponents 170-20 this season. The Panthers lost the state championship by one point last year but won the title the three previous seasons.
Byrd said facing such a quality program gave the Wildcats a taste of the type of primetime football that will be needed if the team wants to reach the postseason.
“Quinlan, Rogers and Mart are all playoff teams, and sure it takes a toll on you mentally and physically,” Byrd said. “But it puts us in an arena to get ready for district and hopefully a playoff run atmosphere.”
The tough non-district schedule has resulted in a 1-3 start for the Wildcats. But Byrd has seen enough promise and potential that proves Whitney can compete as district play starts.
Byrd noted that consistent play on both sides of the ball will be crucial.
“At this point in the season, all kids have been given the opportunity and now it’s the time to step up and be consistent each day and game night,” he said.
Against Mart, Byrd noted the impressive play of several players.
“Offensively I felt like John Dublin, our center, really played well,” he said. “He had a solid game versus a tough Mart defense. He is getting better each week.”
He added that seniors Kolt Byrd and Kyler Cryns had a good night catching the ball and keeping drives alive. Cryns finished with four catches, while Byrd had six catches to go along with four tackles, a pass deflection and a fumble recovery.
Senior Dalton Wooten also pitched in on defense and received praise from the coach.
On special teams, Byrd noted the impact of freshman Carson Griffith. He said Griffith has the most impressive game for the Wildcats.
“He stepped in and made two key field goals from 30 yards and a PAT,” Byrd said. “He is really going to be a weapon for us through district play.”
The first test will be Friday night as Whitney travels up I-35 to face a quality Dallas Madison squad, who sits at 2-2. The district also includes the two top 10 teams in Grandview and West, along with an improved Maypearl team.
“I feel like some schools in the local area just try to dodge bullets and live off of preseason victories,” Byrd said.
“When they get to district, reality hits. There are four top programs in our district that are capable year in and year out to go far. That says a lot about the consistency of coaching in our district and the expectations.”