ARLINGTON, TX — The Panthers and the Pied Pipers came out swinging in the first half.
Mart was chasing their 8th State Championship in school history, their 5th since 2006, and their third consecutive. Hamlin, on the other hand, was making their first appearance in a title game in school history.
Those vastly different resumes did not matter today, though. Hamlin was not just happy to be there, they were ready to win.
They took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field with a textbook drive. Starting at their 39 after a good return, Hamlin converted three third downs. Senior running back Jevon Williams capped the 10 play, 4 minute and 27 second drive with a wildcat run to the right.
Quarterback Braydin Warner's extra point was good, and they had a 7-0 lead.
Mart would quickly strike back. After picking up 21 yards on their first four plays, their star running back Roddrell Freeman broke what should have been two sure tackles by four Hamlin defenders and raced down the right sideline for a 59 yard touchdown.
Hamlin's Austin Lozano blocked the PAT, picked it up, and was brought down near midfield after running out of gas. 7-6 Hamlin.
The Pied Pipers' offense kept rolling on the ensuing possession. Williams had 115 yards in the first half and most of it came on this drive.
After converting another 3rd down on their first set of chains, Hamlin lost a yard on first down and was called for holding on second. Now a 2nd and 21 from their 31, they handed off to Williams, and he outran everyone up the middle for a nice 69 yard touchdown.
The long run snapped Mart into focus. Freeman continued his dominance, but Mart's defense is what separated them towards the end.
Down 14-6 in the second quarter, Freeman found the endzone with a 14 yard run with 7:33 to play in the half and on a 6 yarder with 59 seconds to go.
His touchdown right before the half was set up by an interception from sophomore Keishawn Clater. Clater returned it about 22 yards to their 40. A couple plays into the drive, senior quarterback Tyler Martin followed a caravan of blockers for 37 yards to the Hamlin 9.
All three of Mart's extra points were missed, and they went into halftime with an 18-14 lead.
The second half was a much different ball game than the first. The two defenses shut down the offenses, and the first points came on a pick six 10 minutes into the third quarter.
The first three possessions of the half all ended with a punt. On the fourth, and Hamlin's second, Warner rolled to his right on 3rd down and threw it across his body into the middle of the field. Sophomore Klyderion Campbell undercut the pass running in the opposite direction as the receiver was and outran the Hamlin offensive line for a 31 yard interception return.
The PAT went through the uprights, and Mart was up 25-14.
After his big first half, Williams struggled for the most part in the second. He only gained 20 yards on the ground in the last two quarters and finished with 135.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, Hamlin made some big plays and looked like they would make it a one possession game. Warner threw three straight completions for 62 yards. The last two were big time grabs near the sideline by Austin Brown and AJ Ramirez, and after being reviewed, they were called complete.
Now at the Mart 7, Williams went into the wildcat formation and bobbled an accurate snap. The ball got away from him, and Roddrell Freeman fell on it at the 9 cutting the great drive short.
The Panthers went three and out, though, and Martin's punt went off the side of his foot for a net of only 13 yards.
Hamlin had the ball back at the Mart 23 with 4:07 left. It took them seven plays and just under two minutes, but Warner drew the defense towards him as he scrambled to the left side on 4th down before lofting a pass over their heads to a wide open Lozano.
Their two-point try was stopped, and they were down 5 with 2:22 to play.
The only bad thing about their scoring drive was that they called their remaining timeouts to do so. If they wanted the ball back, they would have to recover the onside kick.
Lozano squared it away, but it fell softly to Martin, and he fell to the ground with it without any drama.
Freeman picked up a hard fought first down on 3rd and 7, and Martin dropped to a knee on the next play to end it.
This is Mart's third straight championship, but a majority of their starters were not in high school for the first one. The Panther's started seven sophomores on defense and five on offense. Head Coach Kevin Hoffman attested to their growth this year in the post game press conference.
Sophomore Klyderion Campbell was named the Defensive Player of the Game mainly because of his crucial pick six. He also had 2.5 tackles and 64 rushing yards on 4 carries offensively.
Junior Roddrell Freeman was named the Offensive Player of the Game. He finished the day with 168 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.
Quarterback Tyler Martin went 4 for 8 for 55 yards, but he added 88 more on 15 rushing attempts.
You can follow this link to read a live play by play recap of the game.