Despite coming up short in his team’s first two ballgames in District 6-6A, Plano East head football coach Joey McCullough still saw his Panthers making strides in their play.
Even weeks later, he can still recount moments where closely contested losses to Lewisville and Hebron got away from his Panthers, citing a myriad of self-inflicted mistakes he felt contributed to East’s 0-2 start to district play.
The Panthers cut down on those miscues Friday just in time for their cross-town rivalry against Plano West and reaped the benefits with their first district win of the season.
That came to fruition behind 31 consecutive points to pace a 31-14 victory from Clark Stadium that improved the Panthers to 1-2 in district play and 2-4 on the season.
“I think we played two really good teams and were right there,” McCullough said. “… We felt like some of that was stuff we weren’t doing. We fixed a lot of that. I thought we played really good defense in the second half against Lewisville. I think that half really galvanized our defense. Our kids believe and know we’re a good football team.”
The Panthers went a ways towards validating that belief by taking control of Friday’s ballgame despite an early salvo from the Wolves. West enjoyed a trademark start on its opening series, bleeding five-and-a-half minutes off the clock before junior Dermot White found the end zone on a 9-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 6:26 left in the first quarter.
Plano West 7, Plano East 0 @ 6:26/1QTrademark West drive to begin this one. They run 5 1/2 minutes off the clock and close it out with a 9 yard TD run by Dermot White. 56 rushing yds between White and Vance Feuerbacher on just 8 carries that series. pic.twitter.com/aBUL3EaAfv— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) October 9, 2021
The rest of the night more or less belonged to the Panthers.
East fired back with 14 straight points to round out the first half — a 1-yard quarterback sneak by sophomore Drew DeVillier and a 2-yard pass from DeVillier to senior Rowdy Keith — for a 14-7 halftime lead.
But even then, McCullough felt like the Panthers’ most dangerous weapon hadn’t been used enough. East made good on that by opening the second half with a direct snap to senior running back Ismail Mahdi, who buried the Wolves on a 57-yard touchdown run for a 21-7 lead just 14 seconds into the third quarter.
“They were packing the box a lot in the first half and we had a lot of success throwing the ball. We came out and went in what we call ‘Cat’ formation with [Mahdi] at quarterback,” McCullough said. “He had eight rushes and one catch in the first half and we knew we had to get him some more touches. Every time he gets it, he has a chance of making something special happen.”
Although it was Mahdi’s lone trip into the end zone, the Panthers’ star rusher’s presence was felt plenty on Friday. He carried the ball 16 times for 201 yards and a touchdown, averaging more 12.5 yards per carry against the West defense.
“[Mahdi is] so gifted. Everybody who plays him knows it, but it’s just about doing something about it,” said Tyler Soukup, West head coach. “He’s as good as there is in the area. It’s a combination of speed and balance. There’s another No. 6 in our district at Lewisville (Damien Martinez) and they’re different but just as good.”
Mahdi had a hand in setting up multiple red-zone scores elsewhere within the East offense and helped complement a bounce-back night behind center for DeVillier. The signal-caller, banged up in the team’s loss to Lewisville, rebounded to the tune of 191 passing yards and three total touchdowns. In addition Keith, DeVillier found junior Rushil Patel for a 10-yard touchdown with 6:11 remaining in the ballgame to swell the Panthers’ lead to 31-7.
“I saw a lot of poise. I think we did a good job of protecting him,” McCullough said of DeVillier. “We bootlegged him and tagged a lot of things with every run and just told him to take what we had. We lost some stuff on the field as well, but he really bounced back and had a good game.”
Plano East 31, Plano West 7 @ 6:11/4QPanthers put a likely exclamation point on this one. QB Drew DeVillier scores his 3rd TD of the night after finding Rushil Patel for a 10 yd TD. After playing Hebron and Lewisville close in defeat, East might be onto something here... pic.twitter.com/EG9MOhuUnW— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) October 9, 2021
The Panthers outgained West 411-249 in the win, weathering the Wolves’ opening-drive touchdown and not allowing any further damage on the scoreboard until 1:00 remained in the ballgame on a 27-yard touchdown run by junior Vance Feuerbacher.
In between, West endured its share of hardships. The Wolves were forced to punt on five consecutive series and had their second drive of the ballgame curtailed by a missed field goal from 48 yards out. It was a far cry from the note West began the game on — imposing its brute-force run game behind White and Feuerbacher to the tune of 70 yards of offense on its opening drive. For the duration of the ballgame, the Panthers held West to just 179 yards.
“We just got in our own way,” Soukup said. “We penalized ourselves with some really untimely mistakes that hurt drives where we thought we’d get some points. Those are absolute killers at crucial moments in the game.”
The Wolves were flagged eight times for 90 yards in the loss, the team’s fourth in a row after a 2-0 start to the season. In defeat, Feuerbacher ran for 122 yards with White adding 58 on the ground.
West looks to halt its skid at 7 p.m. Friday at Marcus, while East looks to build off its win that same time at Flower Mound.
“We’ve got a bunch of young kids, but they understand what we’re capable of,” McCullough said.