Matthew Barnhill grew up watching his elementary school heroes, the Midway Panthers, under the Friday night lights. The senior linebacker remembers the Lobos “breaking our hearts” in 2008 and 2009 when Longview ended the Panthers’ seasons in the playoffs.
Saturday night at Allen’s Eagle Stadium, the Lobos had another chance to break some Panther hearts as Longview lined up for a field goal from the 12-yard line with seven seconds left and Midway up by two.
And as the Panther players, coaches and fans watched as rain poured from the heavens, the kick went wide left. Midway nation went crazy as the missed field goal sealed a 28-26 for the Panthers and secured their berth to the state championship game next week.
“I mean, we’re going to state and it’s Longview,” Barnhill said. “My dad and I were watching them the whole season. They were on our calendar.”
On the elevator going down to the field after the final second ticked off the game clock, one of the Midway coaches looked down at his hands which were shaking. Out on the field, Midway’s head football coach Jeff Hulme was engulfed with one bear hug after another as his players were jumping up and down, high-fiving and taking pictures with their friends and families who were leaning over the rails of the stadium.
“That’s a semifinal game right there,” Hulme said. “Longview’s a great team. We went back and forth. We made some mistakes. They made some mistakes. But, you know what, they caused some of our mistakes and we caused some of theirs. That’s what great teams do. Midway Magic helped us there at the end.”
The Panthers, who led at the half 14-13, went up 28-13 with 5:46 to play in the fourth quarter behind a one-yard run by James Fullbright and, after a fumble recovery, a five-yard run by Tanner Mordecai.
Longview didn’t go away as the Lobos scored on a trick play less than two minutes later before a 15-yard pass from Haynes King to Jaylin Brown cut the Panther lead to two with 11:52 to play.
Midway’s next two drives ended with an interception and a punt as Longview got down to field goal range with just over four minutes to play but missed the kick. The Lobos next drive ended at the hands off Barnhill who picked off King’s pass at the 49-yard line.
“I saw the running back push across,” Barnhill said. “I saw the crosses coming. I’m just happy I hung onto the ball.”
That gave the Panthers the football with less than two minutes to play. But Midway’s possession ended too soon as Mordecai fumbled the ball.
“We couldn’t take a knee,” Hulme said. “They had two timeouts. We knew we needed to run a couple of plays. Believe me, I wanted to take a knee but we just had to run it a little bit. We put the ball in our best player’s hand. Things like that happen. That’s sports. That’s why you play the game.”
The Midway defense kept the Panthers in the game throughout the first half. During that time Longview marched down inside the red zone four different times. The first time, barely under two minutes into the contest, the Lobos fumbled on the 12-yard line and the Panthers recovered. The second, with less than two minutes to play in the opening quarter, Longview got down to the 9-yard line and, after the defense stuffed Jessie Anderson for a loss of two, the Lobos’ field goal attempt was blocked. The third time, midway through the second quarter, Longview kicked a field goal. The fourth time, with just over a minute left in the half, quarterback Haynes King hit A’Darius Carter on a fade route for a 9-yard touchdown.
“I love my boys,” Barnhill said. “That’s all it is. We came out and gave up only 11 points in the first half. It’s just a whole team effort.”
While the defense played well to start, giving up less than 150 yards to Longview in the first half, the Panther offense struggled to get going. Midway turned it over on downs their first two drives before a bad snap on 4th-and-17 the following drive went over the punter’s head and sailed out of the end zone for a safety.
It wasn’t until less than a minute into the second quarter that the Panthers got on the board. A 40-yard reception by C.J. Williams down the Midway sideline set the Panthers up in the red zone for the first time. Two plays later, it was the Tanner Mordecai to Williams connection again, this time an 18-yard completion, to put Midway on the board and give the Panthers the lead.
But the momentum that Midway appeared to have after the score waivers as the next two Panther drives ended with turnovers. The first was a fumble by James Fullbright — Longview answered with a field goal — and the second was an interception off a tipped pass. That play started the Lobo drive on the Midway 34-yard line, and Longview scored seven plays later.
That touchdown, along with the two-point conversion, gave the Lobos back the lead, 13-7, with 1:37 left in the half. And the way Midway answered was the kind of Panther drive Midway fans are used to seeing.
Mordecai connected with Demarcus Degrate for back-to-back passes to start the drive for nine and 12 yards respectively. Then Mordecai found D’Ante Thomas a few times, for nine yards, 10 yards and nine yards again. On 4th-and-1 (when the Panthers were previously 0-2 on fourth down), Mordecai trucked over several defenders for a five-yard game before he kept it again, this time for the one-yard touchdown that gave Midway back the lead at halftime.
“There’s no doubt,” Hulme said. “These kids are making memories. We get another week with them. It’s 16 games. We’re 15-0. It doesn’t get any better than this.”