[BY JOSH HAVARD, Special to ETSN.fm]

PORTER -- The Lufkin Panthers spent the better part of their Class 6A Division II regional semifinal dominating the previously undefeated Spring Westfield Mustangs. They spent the final five minutes surviving it.

After a flurry of wild plays down the stretch that saw the Panthers' lead shrink from 11 to three points, Lufkin made just enough of them that meant the most in holding on for a thrilling 14-11 win over Westfield at Texan Drive Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

"We're four deep now," Lufkin head coach Todd Quick said. "I'm really proud of the kids. We took them out of their rhythm and they had a hard time getting anything going."

With the win, Lufkin (11-2) advanced to the Class 6A Region III finals, where it will take on the Longview Lobos (12-1) on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. from SFA's Homer Bryce Stadium in Nacogdoches.

The teams met in the season opener in Longview with the Lobos taking a 35-16 win.

That trip to the state quarterfinals didn't come without plenty of tense final moments on a day that was otherwise highlighted by a determined group of Panthers.

Lufkin led 14-3 with just over five minutes remaining and appeared ready to run out the clock and head on to the next round. Spring Westfield had other plans.

With Lufkin trying to run out the final minutes, Westfield's Dorien Hawkins came up with an interception and returned it to the Lufkin 19.

Three plays later, Edwin Allen plunged in from one yard out and Noah Massey caught a two-point conversion from Terrance Gipson that narrowed the gap to 14-11 with 4:01 remaining.

Westfield then got a break it had been looking for when a snap got past Lufkin quarterback Kewone Thomas on a third-and-inches play. Lufkin recovered the ball but was forced to punt.

Lufkin recovered a muffed punt on a play that was originally ruled interference against the Panthers. However, the officials ruled the Lufkin player had been blocked into the returner, giving Lufkin the ball back.

After recovering its own fumble on the first play of the drive, Lufkin eventually set up to punt the ball, trying to pin the Mustangs deep in their own territory.

The snap went sailing well over punter Max Quick's head. He alertly tracked the ball down and got off a punt before the Westfield defense could get to him, pinning Westfield at its own 19 in the final minute.

"That was a pretty headsy play," Todd Quick said of his son.

From there, Lufkin relied on its defense, which was the story of the day. After Westfield got a first down, March Thomas came up with a sack that let the clock run down to eight seconds. A final desperation play fell way short, letting Lufkin escape with a well-earned win.

Lufkin's defense was the aggressor for the entire game, holding Westfield's offense to a total of 199 total yards. Lufkin held the Mustangs to 60 rushing yards on 24 carries.

"Our defense came ready from the first play," Coach Quick said. "We rotated guys in and out to keep them fresh and they held up and made the big plays."

Offensively, Lufkin's ground game was up to the challenge against an imposing Westfield defense. Isaiah Phillips led the way with 159 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries.

The Panthers finished the day with 217 yards on the ground. Kewone Thomas ran for 39 yards and threw for 99 more to go along with a touchdown.

"Nobody thought we could do that except the kids on the offensive line and the quarterback and running back," Quick said. "We went against the ones all week, and the kids said the reads were easier today than they were during the week."

The Panthers spent the first half on the verge of breaking things open only to have Westfield make enough plays to stay in the game.

Lufkin received the opening kickoff and drove 50 yards on 14 plays, only to turn the ball over on downs.

However, Lufkin's defense was up to the challenge with Jerrin Thompson intercepting a pass on the Mustangs' first offensive play of the game.

Lufkin was unable to convert on that opportunity as a 42-yard field goal sailed wide right, leaving the game scoreless.

The Panthers' defense rose to the challenge once again as it forced a punt near midfield that set up Lufkin's only touchdown drive of the first half.

Traveling 80 yards on 10 plays, Thomas capped the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Ja'Lynn Polk that gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 8:38 left in the first half.

After the defense forced a three and out, Lufkin's offense moved to the door step of the end zone before Westfield's Marcus Moore picked off a pass in the end zone.

That proved to be the catalyst for a Westfield offense that had been held to 43 yards, one first down and one interception on the first three drives of the game.

Driving 72 yards on 11 plays, Westfield got inside the Lufkin 10 before a block in the back pushed them back. The Mustangs settled for a Brandon Amaya 25-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the half, cutting the margin to 7-3.

In the opening half, Westfield had 125 yards, with more than half of those coming on the last drive of the half.

Terrance Gipson threw for 87 yards and an interception on 5-of-7 passing.

Lufkin was led by Phillips, who ran for 93 yards on 16 carries. Thomas completed 5-of-11 passes for 34 yards and a touchdown, while Polk caught three passes for 25 yards.

After the break, Lufkin kept its momentum, forcing a three and out on the first possession before the offense went back to work.

On Lufkin's first drive of the second half, Polk had a key 35-yard reception that set up Phillips for a two-yard touchdown run, making the score 14-3 with 4:01 left in the third quarter.

That was where the game stood until the furious final five minutes.

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