KILLEEN — Midway is the real deal.
If the No. 6 state ranking didn’t give it away, check the 9-0 record on the season, with a 5-0 mark in district play. In their dominant 63-21 win on the road at Killeen Shoemaker, the Panthers clinched a share of the District 8-6A title and the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
Midway hasn’t gotten to this point in the season fully reliant on its offense sprinkled with division I talent. Sure, it helps to have a guy like Tanner Mordecai under center who can hit a receiver in a small window like he did Friday night. Demarcus Degrate was covered by the Gray Wolf defenseman, except for a one-foot by one-foot window at his waist. Mordecai threaded the needle and Degrate made the catch for the Panthers’ third touchdown of the game.
Mordecai played for two and a half quarters and finished the game 16-for-31 for 280 yards and seven touchdowns. But he’s not solely a passing threat. The senior quarterback and Oklahoma commit ran for 64 yards and a score.
Beside Mordecai in the backfield was James Fullbright. Midway coach Jeff Hulme has describe the junior running back multiple times as a “bowling ball,” saying that other teams get worn down trying to tackle him down after down. Fullbright finished with five carries for 73 yards, including a 22-yard gainer that set up the Panthers’ first offensive touchdown against the Gray Wolves. He also made some key blocks throughout the game. When Shoemaker blitzed, Fullbright was there with the block to allow Mordecai extra time to make the necessary read.
The Panther receivers are good at making blocks as well. There’s never a, “Oh, this guy is going to get his 150 yards” and the rest of the production is questionable. It’s a different receiver each game who steps up in a big way.
It’s been C.J. Williams before, who leads the Central Texas area with 50 catches for 887 yards and 10 touchdowns. And Demarcus Degrate. And Dart Smith. On Friday, it was D’Ante Thomas. He had 121 yards off just six catches for two touchdowns. Four of his catches went for 24, 20, 31 and 36 yards.
While all the skill guys get most of the attention, the offensive line is what allows these plays to be made. Mordecai is given enough time to make a decision and be successful. Fullbright is given a hole to break through for big time yards.
Offensively, Midway has never scored less than 30 points as it averages 44.4 points per contest. While the offense has been efficient all season, it’s been the play of the defense that’s given the Panthers some of their signature wins so far.
And it was the defense that set the tone early for the Panthers.
On Shoemaker’s first play from scrimmage, Tulsa commit Jaxon Player busted through the offensive line and slammed Devin Brown for a two-yard loss.
Then came Trevius Hodges’ 85-yard pick six with five minutes left in the first quarter. Less than a minute later, Xavier Abalos picked off another pass. Hodges recorded another interception midway through the second half.
Despite Shoemaker’s 43-yard touchdown pass from Jedarius Quarles to Claude Williams less than three minutes into the game, the Midway defense was all over the Gray Wolves. From the defensive line, led by Player, to the linebacker corps, led by Matthew Barnhill, who is eighth in Central Texas with 91 tackles, and Grant Graves, to the secondary that finished with three interceptions on the night, the Panthers held Shoemaker to negative yards on around a fifth of their offensive plays before Midway’s starters were pulled halfway through the third quarter.
On the season, the Midway defense has limited its opposition to 22 points.
As the offense scores more points, the defense gets stingier. As the defense makes more stops, the offense gets even more confident. And that combination has been deadly for whoever lines up across from the Panthers on the gridiron.
But just because the regular season comes to a close next week doesn’t mean the Panthers can relax their killer mentality. With the playoffs on the horizon, it needs to strengthen. And in Midway’s blowout Friday night, it showed.