By JUSTIN RAINS
The Westwood football team’s 34-30, comeback victory over Malakoff may have been the program’s biggest win under coach Roger Mays.
The victory gave the Panthers a 2-2 record heading into last week’s bye week, and they’ll try and build on that momentum when they close their non-district schedule Friday by welcoming in Groesbeck (3-2).
Kick-off is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Panther Stadium (1820 Panther Dr., Palestine, Texas, 75801).
“I think that was big for us, to win in the fashion that we did...an exciting, come-from-behind manner,” Mays said. “That gave us two weeks to reflect on what we’re able to do.
“I feel really good and I think the kids have responded as well.”
The non-district matchup post-bye is by design from Mays, who saw his team beat Rusk before its bye week last year, only to “come out flat” in the district opener, which the Panthers lost to Madisonville.
This year, he’s hoping that facing a Class 3A opponent — and former district rival — helps his team clear the cobwebs of the bye week as the Panthers prepare for district to start next week.
“We’ve put some new things in offensively and we’ve spent two weeks on them, so I feel really good and the kids are excited about what we’re doing,” Mays said. “So, if we can come out and hit the ground running, and not have any rust or early mental mistakes, I’m going to feel really good.”
Some of those changes include making the spread offense a bigger part of the team’s attack.
The spread served the Panthers well against Malakoff, as the team erased a 17-point fourth quarter deficit, mostly with running back Keke Hicks playing quarterback.
But, the Panthers haven’t completely abandoned their old, wing-T style of offense either. Instead, they’ll take what the defense gives them.
“They’ve got some big, strong kids up front (and) their linebackers flow to the ball well,” Mays said of the Goats’ defense. “You’d think it’d be hard to run on them, but we’ve seen some teams be able to run on them. So, even though we’re spreading the ball out more than in our traditional wing-t stuff, I still feel like we can power and run right at them.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers may be playing as well as they’ve played all season.
While the offense was scoring 21 unanswered points to seal the win against Malakoff, it was the defense keeping the high-powered Tigers’ offense out of the end zone.
With Groesbeck and senior running back Matt Barnes coming to town, Mays is hoping that defensive success can carry over.
“That game, that’s what it did for us is build confidence (defensively),” Mays said. “Early in the game, we talked about hitting, wrapping up and making tackles...and we didn’t do that early.
“It’s nice when you’re able to preach that and then win. The kids have concrete evidence that it does work.”
The bye week was big for the Panthers in terms of their health. Aside from two players who are done for the year with knee injuries, the Panthers will have the full compliment of players ready for the Groesbeck game.
“Any football player that plays hard each and every week, they’re going to be banged up and bruised,” Mays said. “That’s just to be expected, and we’ve got that right along with anybody.
“I feel like we’re as healthy as we’ve been all season.”
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at email@example.com