Midway Cy Fair

Midway students react to the Panthers’ loss to Cy-Fair Saturday night.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

ARLINGTON — Maybe it should have been an omen when the Midway state-bound caravan encountered a nasty traffic snarl before even departing Waco.

It was just one of those kinds of days for the Panthers.

Midway’s Christmas wish of the program’s first state championship was replaced by a humbling 51-35 loss to Cy-Fair in the Class 6A Division II state final on Saturday at AT&T Stadium. After 15 often dominating wins, the Panthers finally encountered a foe that could put the clamps on their potent point-a-minute production.

It’s not the way Midway wanted to go out. Not even close. But there’s absolutely zero reason for those Midway players to dip those shiny white lids.

Be proud, Midway. You were one of four Class 6A teams in the state to play for a state championship. You were one of just three to win 15 games. It may not feel like it today, but you have every reason to celebrate the overall greatness of the season. One bad game doesn’t change that.

And don’t be fooled: Cy-Fair was the better team. The Bobcats undoubtedly wouldn’t be 16 points better if they played every week. Nor would they likely beat Midway every week. But on this night, on this grand stage, Cy-Fair was better.

In a bit of a stunning development, the Bobcats delivered a recurring nightmare to the Midway offensive line all night long — and, don’t forget, that’s a Panther offensive line with no less than three Division I-bound players. When Tanner Mordecai had time to throw, he did Tanner Mordecai things. You know, like fling the ball all over the field to Midway’s speedy receivers. That time was fleeting, though. More often, especially in the first half, Mordecai found himself sprinting for safety.

All credit is due Cy-Fair for that Herculean effort. Honestly, holding Midway to 35 points is exactly that. And yet it was also a game where things went a little wonky for the Panthers. Weird, uncharacteristic stuff.

Like kick returners losing the handle on the ball. Receivers failing to corral the catch. Centers snapping over the QB’s head. Fumbles that slipped around like a bar of wet soap. At some point, it just kind of gets in your head.

Either that, or you start looking around for the elf on the shelf, to see if he’s playing tricks.

“It just seemed like from the very first play we were a little snake-bit,” Midway coach Jeff Hulme said. “We just couldn’t catch a break. Everything was bouncing their way. That’s what happens when you play a good team. Cy-Fair is a good team. They earned it.

“It doesn’t take away from our season. These kids can hold their head up and I’m just real proud of them.”

Hulme said a mouthful. Midway should absolutely feel proud not only of its season — arguably the greatest in school history, considering no other Panther team had ever won its first 15 games — but also of the way it kept plugging away.

The Panthers trailed by 34 after three quarters and pulled to within 16 by the end. Guys like Jaxon Player, Trevius Hodges and Mordecai, among others, left everything they had on the Dallas Cowboys’ designer carpet. Case in point: on Midway’s final possession, Mordecai scrambled for a gain of 16 yards that included the QB lowering his head and taking on Cy-Fair’s hard-hitting defenders face-first.

Heck, the next time Mordecai slides in a game will probably be his first. You’ve got to admire the kid’s tenacity and toughness.

“I hope that’s what these guys remember,” Hulme said. “That’s what we’re going to talk about in the locker room is, you know, ‘Hey, I know you’re hurt right now. I understand that.’ But they’re going to be able to look back on this game and this season and have a lot to smile about.”

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Midway Cy Fair

Midway quarterback Tanner Mordecai (right) attempts to break away from Cy-Fair safety Kyle Bell (center) Saturday night.

In the immediate moments after the game ended, smiles were scarce among the Midway group. Coaches ambled from player to player, providing comforting hugs and slaps on the helmet to crestfallen players who were dabbing away tears or shaking their heads in frustration.

As the Midway players slowly walked off the field for one final time in 2017, a large throng of red T-shirt-wearing Panther fans applauded and called out, ‘Keep your heads up!’

David Priebe, Midway’s 6-foot-6 light tower of a tight end, stopped before he entered the tunnel to the locker room and gazed back at the scoreboard with soggy eyes.

Unfortunately for Priebe and the Panthers, the outcome hadn’t changed. The scoreboard still showed that, on this day, they’d lost the game.

Yet here’s the thing: the Panthers don’t need a the world’s largest TV screen to catch a glimpse of the big picture.

They didn’t win the day, but winners they remained.