Jeff Hulme said he should know what to say. Two years ago, Hulme led Mansfield to the state semifinals. Saturday night under the lights at McLane Stadium, he got Midway to the same hallowed ground as the Panthers held off Southlake Carroll, 42-28.
“I’m just so thrilled for these players and these fans, this community,” the Midway head coach said. “What a great crowd. What a great atmosphere. Our kids persevered. They didn’t panic. Same thing they’ve done all year. We’re headed to the semis.”
Like Hulme said, Midway continued to play the same brand of football that it has all season long. It put a high-powered offense on the field, paired a defense that makes the biggest stops at the most opportune of times.
Entering Saturday’s contest, Midway averaged better than 500 yards of total offense per game behind a balanced attack through the air and on the ground. Against Southlake Carroll, the Panthers found the most success on the ground behind the play of James Fullbright. The junior running back finished with 29 carries for 159 yards and a touchdown.
“I couldn’t have done it without the offensive line, and Tanner keeps them worried about the pass, so that opens up the run,” Fullbright said. “I feel like I had a good performance though.”
When it wasn’t Fullbright carrying the ball, it was Mordecai bulldozing his way for positive yards. The senior quarterback finished with 16 carries for 119 yards and four touchdowns.
Seemingly his biggest scores of the night came in the second half.
After Southlake Carroll tied things up at 21 with 2:24 left in the third quarter, Mordecai broke through the line of scrimmage and sprinted away for a 46-yard touchdown to give the lead back to the Panthers for good.
“The offensive line opens up the holes,” Mordecai said. “James also is a good blocker. He hit that last guy and was able for me to be able to run clear.”
He also scored again with 33 seconds left in the game. Up by one touchdown, Midway had the ball on the Dragon 9-yard line facing 4th-and-3. Mordecai took the snap and cut through the left side of the field into the end zone.
When asked about his play — Mordecai also finished 18 of 29 through the air for 191 yards and a touchdown — he gave all his praise to the offensive line.
“They’re the best offensive line in the state,” Mordecai said. “I’m extremely lucky to be able to run behind those guys and throw behind those guys. We’ve got five great dudes up there blocking for us. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
While the offense continued to do its thing, the defense made big plays at the best times. The defensive backs had a good outing with five pass breakups, three of which belonged to Grant Parnell.
But the biggest play of the game by the defense came at the 11:09 mark in the fourth quarter. Midway had just taken the 28-21 lead. Southlake Carroll was facing 3rd-and-9 on its own 26-yard line. Keep in mind, the Dragons had converted on each of their last four first downs. When quarterback Will Bowers threw a pass down the Dragon sideline, Jack Hicks came up with an interception.
“I knew they had all the momentum, so I knew it would be a momentum change and I knew we’d score that close to the goal line,” Hicks said. “That quarterback’s great. They’ve got a bunch of good receivers that catch the ball well. That was big. That was something we needed. As a defense with an offense as good as they are, our defense knows we have to step up and we always find a way.”
This defense has “found a way” all year long. In the big wins over tough foes in nondistrict, it was a key stop by the defense that kept things alive for the Panthers. In last week’s playoff game against Mansfield, the Midway defense came up with some key defensive plays to get the win. And it happened again, with Hicks’s interception, on Saturday.
It’s been something that’s happened all season long. So when Southlake Carroll came back from a 21-0 deficit to tie the game at 21 with time running out in the third quarter, the Panthers didn’t panic. They kept their poise and did what they’ve done. They found a way.
“We just have to do what we always do,” Mordecai said. “We knew we were going to face adversity at some point. We just had to execute. When we get the ball, we had to put it in the end zone.”
Jonesboro 83, Tioga 56
SPRINGTOWN – Before the 2016 season, the Jonesboro Eagles had never reached a state championship game.
Now they’re going to their second straight.
Senior standout Wyatt Young scored seven touchdowns for the high-powered Eagles in a shootout win over the Bulldogs in the Class 1A Division I state semifinals on Saturday at Springtown’s Porcupine Stadium. With the victory, Jonesboro (13-1) advances to the state title game for the second straight year, and will face the same opponent as last year in Borden County. The state game will be 11 a.m. Dec. 20 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
There was no shortage of scoring in this one, but Tioga (11-2) couldn’t ever completely slow down Young and the Eagles. Young ran for six touchdowns and also scored on an 18-yard interception return.
How prolific were the Eagles on this night? They scored three times in the final 96 seconds of the first half – on an Andy Sarmiento 39-yard run, Young’s pick-six and a short Young plunge, taking a 48-34 edge into the halftime break.
Cade Kimbrell scored four times for Tioga, including ripping off a 71-yard kickoff return, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Eagles. For Jonesboro, Ethan Lilljedahl chipped in a pair of TD runs and Gage Bragewitz made a nice 19-yard scoring pass to Anthony Lopez.
Jonesboro has finished each of the four seasons prior to this one with just one loss. If the Eagles manage that feat this year, they’ll capture the program’s first state title.