Sports

Mart shines in TV showdown versus Wildcats
With a playbook filled with prowess and pride, the Mart Panthers powered past the Whitney Wildcats Friday in a 32-7 showdown.
The matchup, billed as KWTX-TV’s Big Game of the Week, was televised regionally, and Mart utilized the limelight to prove why it is one of Texas’ legendary high school football programs.
Mart has nearly 800 football victories and ranks as one of Texas’ top three schools when it comes to all-time wins. Recently, Mart has won three consecutive 2A titles and displays a total of eight state championships in the trophy case.
After the Wildcats controlled the majority of the first half and shocked the Panthers with a striking defense, Mart calmly caught its breath and went to work, scoring five unanswered touchdowns to cruise to the victory.
“We came out firing on all cylinders and played a great first half, but the second half snowballed on us,” Head Coach Mark Byrd said. “Obviously, Mart’s a great program and credit to them for making the halftime adjustments.”
Byrd added the final score didn’t reflect the hard-fought effort from his team, and he said there were positive strides made that the Wildcats would build on.
Using a balancing attack of rushing and passing, the Wildcats found the scoreboard first with a 21-yard sprint from junior Jordan Newton.
But Mart immediately responded at the end of the first quarter with its fast and furious running game. A Panther touchdown was accompanied by a blocked extra point that put the score at 7-6 and kept the game in the Wildcats’ favor.
Whitney’s Garrett Peacock skillfully led the effort on both sides of the ball as the junior deflected a potential Panther touchdown pass, then continued to guide the Wildcats from the quarterback slot.
“Peacock has that big play ability and is a warrior on both offense and defense,” Byrd said. “He is a natural born leader, and I take my hat off to him and his parents for the work and preparations they’ve made to get him to this point.”
Targeting receivers with pinpoint passes, Peacock marched down the field midway through the second quarter when a dart bounced off receiver Levi Whitehead and landed in the hands of a Panther defender. A facemask penalty on the play further fueled Mart’s momentum, and the Panthers took advantage.
With :48 left in the half, Mart sprinted into the endzone to take a 13-7 lead. Throughout the night, the Wildcats battled a barrage of yellow flags, which plagued Whitney’s bid for an upset at Panther Stadium.
“The penalties were non-characteristic of our team, but I feel the frustration set in,” Byrd said. “You just can’t spot top teams field position. It’s a game-changer.”
Both defenses then flexed their muscles to start the second half, and the teams traded possessions. Mart’s defensive pressure never faded, and the effort was complemented by Mart’s experience and athleticism from four-year starting quarterback Roddrell Freeman and his arsenal of weapons.
In a span of eight minutes that straddled the third and fourth quarters, the Panthers took control and overpowered the Wildcats. Freeman connected for touchdown receptions of 16 and 69 yards. The 230-pound bruiser then took matters into his own hands, barreling through five Wildcat defenders for a highlight-reel, 30-yard rushing score.
“Freeman is the catalyst of that offense,” Byrd said. “When they need a play, he steps up and makes it.”
Suddenly Mart stretched the lead to 32-7, and the Wildcats were left to wonder what might have been.
“We’ve got to pick our heads up and get ready for district, but these types of games show we can play with the top teams,” Byrd said. “We learned that we can’t let our guard down.”
The Wildcats enter into district play next week as they travel to south Dallas to face Life Oak Cliff. The Lions are a newcomer to District 7-3A and are still seeking a win this season.
Upcoming district opponents for the Wildcats include home games against Dallas Madison and West, followed by road games against defending state champion Grandview and A Plus Academy. The Wildcats will close out the season at home against Maypearl.

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