[By Josh Havard, Special to ETSN.fm]

LUFKIN -- The Lufkin Panthers' 2016 season ended in devastating fashion when the defense couldn't get the big stops in a 50-49 shootout loss to the John Tyler Lions.

Playing in front of the home crowd in the Class 6A Region II Bi-District round of the playoffs, it was sweet redemption for the Panthers' defense.

Holding the Rockwall Heath Hawks to fewer than 200 total yards, the Lufkin defense was the story of the night as the Panthers rolled to a 28-7 win at John Outlaw Memorial Field at Abe Martin Stadium.

Tanner McAlister, who has committed to play for Arkansas next season, was held to 35 rushing yards on 16 carries. The Hawks finished the night with a total of 188 yards with only 40 of those coming before the half when Lufkin's offense struggled to find its footing.

"I thought stopping the run was the difference, and they just kept on and kept on," Lufkin head coach Todd Quick said. "I thought the kids adjusted well and I'm really proud of them. We have to play good defense to get where we want to go."

Lufkin also had plenty of punch on the offensive side of the ball, espcially in the second half when a powerful ground game got going.

Isaiah Phillips finished the night with 163 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, while Kewone Thomas ran for 56 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.

"Early on we shot ourselves in the foot on offense but we kept with it," Quick said. "When you're running like that, you can control the game. That was the big thing tonight."

Thomas added 184 yards through the air on 11-of-17 passing. Ja'Lynn Polk had three catches for 91 yards, all in the first half, and Malik Jackson caught four passes for 55 yards.

The first half was dominated by the Panthers, although some key plays by the Heath defense, mixed with several Lufkin miscues kept the Hawks within striking distance.

The first drive of the game was filled with twists and turns as a fumble and a 15-yard pentalty left Lufkin with a third and 33. Undeterred, Kewone Thomas hit a wide open Ja'Lynn Polk for a 40-yard pass and a first down.

However, when Thomas went back to pass later in the drive, the ball slipped out of his hands and Cutter Cleveland was there to recover at the Lufkin 48.

The Panthers' defense was up to the challenge in forcing a three and out before Heath punter Bijan Nichols pinned Lufkin at its own 3 yard line.

Lufkin once again had the answer on a third down with Thomas connecting with Polk on another long pass, this one for 33 yards, to keep the drive alive.

Four plays later, Phillips ran untouched up the middle for a 46-yard touchdown run that put the Panthers on top 7-0 with 2:34 left in the first quarter.

That proved to be all of the offense in a first half that was dominated by both defenses.

The Panthers held the Hawks to a total of 40 yards on 19 plays in the first half with a total of two first downs. One of those first downs came on a roughing the punter call against the Panthers.

That proved to be one of seven penalties totaling 70 yards against the Pack in the first half.

On the offensive side, Lufkin managed to rack up 222 yards but was unable to take advantage other than the Phillips' touchdown run.

Phillips finished the first half with 99 yards on 12 carries, while Polk had three receptions for 91 yards. Thomas completed 8-of-13 passes for 146 yards.

Lufkin's defense held McAlister to 16 yards on five carries. Garrett Cody completed 5-of-9 passes for 22 yards.

Lufkin began the second half by getting the break it had been looking for all game long.

With Rockwall facing a fourth and one, Lufkin's Savon Fields jumped on a bad snap at the Hawks' 36 yard line.

The Panthers then turned to the ground game with Phillips getting eight straight carries before eventually finishing with a one-yard touchdown run on fourth down that gave the Panthers a 14-0 lead with 7:46 left in the third quarter.

Heath answered with a drive that went 12 plays and six minutes but was stopped when Tanner McAlister was held to four yards on a fourth and five play.

That helped the Pack offense set up the knockout punch when Kewone Thomas broke loose for a 47-yard run before sneaking it in from one yard out on the next play for a 21-0 lead with 11:02 remaining.

The Hawks finally found the scoreboard with 6:05 left in the game when Garrett Cody hit Jackson Salley for a short pass before he made a Lufkin player miss a tackle and ran the 33 yards for a touchdown that trimmed the margin to 21-7.

That proved to be the only highlight of the night for Heath as Lufkin recovered the onside kick then put the game away when Thomas scored on a 17-yard touchdown run with 2:29 remaining to up the lead back to 21 at 28-7.

The Panthers (9-2) now advance to the area round of the playoffs where they will take on Richardson Pearce on Nov. 25 at 2 p.m. at Corsicana High School. Heath ended its season with a 6-5 record.

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