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Barrett Hill hurdling the goal line. Photo by Mary Mauk

By Charles Johnson:

EMORY  –  The Harmony Eagles claimed a AAA-Division II bi-district football crown last Thursday night at Rains Wildcat Stadium with a convincing, 56-21, trouncing of the Bells Panthers.    The Eagles used an unstoppable rushing attack which gained 582 yards to notch their tenth win of the season.

Harmony (10-1) advances to area round of the playoffs against the Daingerfield (7-3) Tigers who defeated Anderson-Shiro, 64-13, in bi-district play.    The area contest is slated for Friday, November 23, at Pine Tree Stadium in Longview.    Kickoff is at 2:00 P.M. in an afternoon game.

Bells, from District 9-AAA, was a formidable foe in the first round.   The Panthers featured senior quarterback Bryan Ponder who was the Texas class AA Player-of-the-Year in 2017.    His strong arm and pin-point passes were a challenge for the Eagle defense for the entire game.    Bells had only three pure rushing attempts from scrimmage.   The Panthers put the ball in the air 51 times.

Harmony countered with a fierce defensive rush which kept Ponder on edge most of the contest.    The Eagle secondary also recorded three interceptions on the night to counter the aerial barrage.

As successful as the Panther offense was, their defense was equally lacking against the “blitzkrieg” Eagle rushing attack.    Harmony used a dozen different runners in the game to amass their 621 yards of total offense.

The Eagles had three running backs to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark.    They were led by Isaac Edwards who ran for 152 yards on 15 carries. Brody Powledge totaled 149 yards on only 8 carries while teammate Michael Everett logged 141 yards on 10 totes of the pigskin.

As explosive as the Eagles were in the game,   things started our slowly for the Harmony “11.”    The Eagles took the opening kickoff and starting from their own 25 ran 10 plays before turning the ball over on downs at the Panther-37.

Bells quickly put together a 63 yard, 8 play (all passes) scoring drive to put the first points on the scoreboard.   The drive culminated with an 18-yard scoring strike from Ponder to Ben Stephens for the TD.   Keaton High’s PAT kick gave Bells an early, 7-0, advantage with 6:14 to play in the first quarter.

The Harmony offense again struggled and turned the ball over on downs at the Eagle-46.   After an exchange of punts, the Eagles went 88 yards in 12 plays to take the lead.    Edwards’ one yard blast into the end zone with 8:39 to go in the second quarter accounted for the first Eagle TD.   Edwards’ 41 yard run was the key play in the drive.   Easton Blackstone ran a successful 2-point conversion as Harmony led 8-7.

The Eagle defense seem inspired by the offense’s new life and forced a quick three and out on three straight incompletions.   Harmony then went 61 yards in only four plays to extend their lead to 14-7 on Powledge’s 9 yard scoring run with 6:47 remaining in the first half.    His TD was set up by Everett’s 36 yard scamper and Barrett Hill’s 11 yard run.

Bells proved they would not go down easily, however, as the Panthers countered with a 70-yard, 10-play scoring drive.    They converted a 4th-and-14 on the drive which ended with Ponder’s 5-yard scoring pass to Wrangler Priest with 1:44 showing in the second quarter.    The PAT kick knotted the score at 14-14.

Drew McNeel’s 32 yard kickoff return gave the Eagles excellent field position to start their final, first half scoring drive at the Panther 38.   Everett capped the scoring series with a 4 yard end run with 19 seconds to go behind excellent blocking from his line.    Spencer Yates added the PAT boot to give Harmony a 21-14 lead at the halftime intermission.

The Eagles quickly shifted momentum into their favor on Bells opening second half drive as Cameron Helpenstill picked off his second interception of the game.   “Big MO” was lost, however, as Harmony fumbled back to the Panthers in the red zone at the end of a long run by Powledge.

Beginning at their own 12, the Panthers moved the ball to midfield before the Eagle defense again turned the ball over on downs.   It only took Harmony 2 plays to strike paydirt again as Powledge raced 29 yards and was followed by Everett’s 19 scoring streak to take a 28-14 lead with 7:39 showing in the third stanza.

Bells again was forced to punt back to the Eagles.   Harmony went 54 yards in 5 plays on their next scoring drive with Drew McNeel crossing the double-stripe for six points on a 5 yard run and a 35-14 lead as the Eagles began pulling away with 3:59 to go in the third.

After forcing another Panther punt, Harmony fumbled at their own 22 yard line.   Bells could not take advantage of the short field as Easton Blackstone sacked Ponder for a ten yard loss on 4th-and-3 at the Harmony 15.

It only took the Eagles 3 plays to go 75 yards for another TD.   Edwards ran 37 yards on the first two plays of this drive, and Everett scored again on a 38 yard rambled for an insurmountable, 42-14, lead with 1:06 to go in the third.

Another 3-and-out forced by the Eagle defense gave the Harmony offense the ball at their own 37.   Powledge struck the Panthers with a 48-yard run on the next play, and Edwards followed by scoring again on a 16-yard rush to up the margin to 49-14 and 10:56 showing on the fourth quarter clock.

Bells then put together their final scoring drive as the Panthers drove 67 yards in 8 plays with Ponder’s 26 yard pass to Bo Baker putting 6 more points on the scoreboard with 7:22 to play in the game.

Harmony’s substitutes neutralized the Panthers’ lone second half score by going 54 yards in 7 plays to score the game’s final touchdown.    Luis Lozano’s 25 yard run and Yates’ PAT kick made the final score 56-21.

On Bells last possession, Hunter McNeel intercepted Ponder’s 51st pass attempt of the game with 1:52 remaining.  As the Eagles lined up in victory formation, QB Gage Goddard took three knees to run out the clock and send the Eagles to round two of the playoffs.

Defensive leaders for the Eagles included the following:   Easton Blackstone, 5 tackles and 3 sacks;  Drew McNeel, 7 tackles; Cameron Helpenstill, 5 tackles and 2 pass interceptions; Leo Arellano, 6 tackles; and Trent Hart, 8 QB pressures, a broke-up pass, and two tackles.

Coach Tim Russell expressed he was “really proud” of his team being able to capture the bi-district championship for the fourth year in a row.   “We’ve had a great run so far.   Being here (in the playoffs) is a special thing.  We have a great group of coaches with strong character who are leading a team full of players with strong character,” added Russell.

“Daingerfield will be the best team we have faced since West Rusk (whom the Eagles lost to, 28-24, in non-district action this season).    They have great athletes at all positions,” quipped the winningest football coach in Harmony history.

Daingerfield defeated Anderson-Shiro, 64-13, in bi-district action last Thursday in Athens.   Friday’s game should be a competitive contest between these two East Texas opponents.

Harmony 56  Bells 21

1       2       3       4          T

B      7       7       0       7  –     21

H      0      21    21    14  –     56

 

GAME AT A GLANCE

HARMONY                                  BELLS

28  ……  First Downs ……..    15

61-582  ..   Rushes-Yds …..   13 – (-24)

3-8-0  ….   Passes: C-A-I …    24-51-3

39  ……   Passing Yds  ……..   265

621  …..   Total  Yds   ……….   241

8-64  ….   Penalties-Yds ….    3-25

6-2  ……   Fumbles-Lost …..    2-0

1-40.0  …   Punts-Avg.  ………   6-32.5