HOWE — After a one-win campaign last year, the Van Alstyne Panthers are on the verge of returning to the playoffs.
Van Alstyne also kept possession of the Silver Spike trophy with a 31-7 win over the Howe Bulldogs in District 6-2A (I) action on Friday night.
Van Alstyne will host Farmersville and will clinch a playoff spot with a victory but the win over Howe was a big relief for the Panthers.
“We just wanted to get to this position and try to erase last year. It’s been our goal all along,” Van Alstyne head coach Mikeal Miller said.
Howe (3-6, 1-4) had three first-half drives stopped inside the Van Alstyne 25-yard line,while the Bulldog defense was holding the Panthers (5-4, 3-2) to just over 90 yards in the first half.
Van Alstyne netted 75 of those yards on its first possession after stopping Howe at the Panther 25-yard line.
A 28-yard run by Dont’e Kehler started the drive and Kehler’s run from 25 yards out got the scoring started.
The Bulldogs took the ensuing kickoff and put together a 10-play drive, moving the ball to the Van Alstyne 14-yard line before failing to convert on a fourth-and-two.
“We don’t have the ability to make up for plays that we mess up.” Howe coach Zack Hudson said. “We had a couple of drives where one bad play cost us a down and we just can’t recover.”
Neither team could maintain any offensive momentum for the remainder of the first half. Howe drove to the Van Alstyne 35-yard line before running out of downs.
Van Alstyne got great field position on the second-half kickoff, taking over at its 46-yard line. An Alex Phillips pass to Kearon Redmon picked up 15 yards and Matt Perez capped the drive with a 26-yard field goal.
After a nice kickoff return by Tyler Nicholson, Howe drove to the Van Alstyne 15-yard line before the Panther defense stopped the drive.
Late in the quarter, Van Alstyne marched 38 yards with key runs by Redmon and Terry Lawrence. A Phillips pass to Shawn Wheeler from 11 yards out gave the Panthers a 17-0 lead.
After stopping the Bulldogs on their first possession of the fourth period, Van Alstyne put together a 56-yard drive for another touchdown.
A 15-yard run by Lawrence started the drive and Phillips finished it with an 11-yard run for the score.
Lawrence finished with 46 yards rushing in his first game back after a leg injury.
“He gives up some more depth at running back and we like to rotate those guys and keep them fresh,” Miller said.
Howe finally got on the scoreboard on its next possession with a 70-yard drive, all on the ground. Anthony Hawthorne, who finished with 106 yards, had 36 of those yards in the march.
An 11-yard run by Stratton Carroll got the Bulldogs on the board to avoid the shutout.
Phillips added a late touchdown for the Panthers, scoring from 14 yards out with just over a minute left in the contest.
Howe will close out the season with a trip to Sunnyvale.