The trash talk started before the game even began.
“D stands for dumb,” the Midway offensive line mouthed toward the defensive line.
“Oh yeah? Well, we’re going to sweep the floor with y’all,” the D-line replied.
As the two units lined up and stood about a yard apart face to face, the playful jabs continued until the first question was asked: “What was the name of the Dr. Seuss character that stole Christmas?”
That’s right. All that jawing and (playful) competitive fire was over a Christmas trivia game. No matter which unit it is — the Panther offensive or defensive line — they want to be better than whoever is standing across from them.
On Wednesday after practice it was their teammates. On Saturday evening, it will be Longview as the two teams battle at Allen’s Eagle Stadium for a berth into the state championship game next week.
It’s hard to quantify the effect these young men have had on this year’s Midway football team. Sure pancake blocks can be used for the offensive line, while the defensive linemen can rack up tackles, but there’s so much more to what they have to offer.
It’s making a key block on the offensive end that either opens up a hole for the run game or gives Tanner Mordecai plenty of time to make a pass to one of the many talented Panther receivers down the field without being hurried by defenders. It’s the defensive line breaking through into the backfield and giving the opposing quarterback all sorts of fits or containing the other team’s running game.
“Any coach will tell you that you can’t do anything without the offensive and defensive linemen,” Midway head football coach Jeff Hulme said. “Defensive linemen are a secondary’s best friend when they put a rush on the quarterback and they protect the linebackers. And the offensive linemen, I mean, everybody knows what they do with the run game and the pass game. They open up holes for James (Fullbright) and protect for Tanner. They’re the key.”
Like Hulme said, these linemen have been integral to Midway advancing to the state semifinals with a spotless record. The kind of dominance both units play with has been a constant from the start of the season.
When the defensive linemen thought of their favorite plays from the season, they ranged from a week ago with Jack Hicks’s interception and Jordan Jacobs’s strip sack against Southlake Carroll to Jaxon Player’s tackle for loss on third down against Mansfield to the first game of the season against Cedar Park.
David Benton got excited just talking about it. The offensive line had done its job well, opening up wide gaps for Fullbright. The running back had 238 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries that game. With the clock running down, the home team faced 4th-and-1 with a 27-game home winning streak on the line. When the ball was snapped and handed off to Luke Policke, Midway linebacker Matthew Barnhill stuffed the Cedar Park running back for no gain, which gave the ball back to the Panthers and sealed the victory for Midway.
“I think we’ve really stepped up,” Player said. “A lot of people doubted us because we’re so small. But we’ve come up and played a big part in our offense and defense.”
Hakeem White had a hot take about his quarterback.
“I’m going to give you a little sneak peek for the next four years,” White said with a grin. “Our quarterback is going to win the Heisman.”
While White pumped his fist, one of the other linemen chipped in and proclaimed, “Yeah, and our running back is going to go Division I.”
Hulme has talked about the chemistry of this team all season long. And it’s evident to anyone whenever they see these Panther players. After football games, Fullbright and Mordecai heap praises on their offensive line.
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After the win over Southlake Carroll a week ago, Fullbright said that with three Division I commits up front, it would be hard for him not to get the yards he gets game by game. Mordecai, who isn’t one to talk much about himself, went on and on about the kind of guys he gets to play behind.
And as White stood smiling and fielding high fives from his teammates after his declaration, the belief these players have in each other is clear to see.
It’s the same on the defensive end. After the defensive backs came up with a multitude of pass breakups against the Dragons in the state quarterfinals last week, they applauded the pressure their defensive line put on the quarterback.
And the defensive linemen couldn’t say enough about the effort the Panther DBs have played with all season long.
“We all help each other,” Player said. “When the offense can’t throw the ball or run the ball like they want to, the secondary just has free reign to do whatever they want.”
When it comes to how the two units think the other is doing, they each see the hard work they put in over the offseason paying off. And the play up front will be key against a Longview team that averages 39.2 points and 375.5 yards per contest.
“We need to play our keys and read the linemen real well,” Jacobs said.
As far as what the offense needs to do in order for the Panthers to advance, each of the linemen chipped in different areas where they need to excel. Then Daniel Castro spoke up. While it wasn’t an X’s and O’s breakdown specific to Saturday’s game against Longview, it was a goal the Panthers set before the season began that, win by win, is becoming closer and closer to becoming reality.
“We want to be the most dominant line in the state of Texas,” Castro said. “We’re almost there.”