LUFKIN - Lufkin used a dominant defensive performance to advance in the high school football playoffs for the first time since 2012 with a 28-7 victory over Rockwall-Heath Friday night at Abe Martin Stadium.
Facing a rushing attack that came in averaging 241.3 yards per game on the ground, the Panthers held the Hawks to 61 rushing yards and posted a shutout in the game's first 41 minutes.
Lufkin used a swarming defense to hold Arkansas-bound running back Tanner McCalister to 45 yards on 15 carries.
Instead, it was Panthers' running back Isaiah Phillips who stole the show, rushing for 160 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Quarterback Kewone Thomas - making his first playoff start - added 60 yards on the ground and had two second-half trips to the end zone.
Lufkin lost a fumble on its first drive that was recovered by Heath's Cutter Cleveland in Lufkin territory. The Panthers' defense forced a three-and-out, which led to a punt by the Hawks. After a 41-yard punt, Lufkin took over at its own 3-yard line.
Passes of 33 and 17 yards from Thomas to Ja'Lynn Polk moved Lufkin into Heath territory before Phillips broke loose for a 46-yard touchdown run to give Lufkin a 7-0 lead with 2:34 left in the first half. That score stayed the same until halftime.
Heath got the ball first in the second half, and a bad snap was recovered by Lufkin's Savon Fields. The Panthers capitalized with an eight-play, 36-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard scoring run by Phillips. Every play on the drive was a run by Phillips.
Heath followed with a long drive that got down to the Lufkin 28-yard line, but the Panthers stopped the Hawks on fourth down.
On the ensuing drive, Thomas had a 47-yard run and then used a quarterback sneak to score form 1 yard out on the next play, giving the Panthers a 21-0 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
Heath went to backup quarterback Jackson Van Bevers, who threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Jackson Salley. That cut the score to 21-7 with 6:05 to play. The Hawks attempted an onside kick and appeared to recover the football, but the ball didn't travel 10 yards.
Lufin took advantage and put the game away with a 17-yard touchdown run by Thomas.
Thomas was 12 of 18 through the air for 186 yards. Polk caught three passes for 90 yards, and Malik Jackson had four grabs for 54 yards.
Lufkin (9-2) will play Richardson Pearce - a 27-21 overtime winner over Garland Naaman Forest - at 2 p.m. Nov. 25 in Corsicana.