For most teams, the final home game of the regular season marks the last time the seniors will play on their home football field. That wasn’t the case Thursday night for Midway, though, as the Panthers had already secured the district championship the week before which guaranteed the opportunity to host the first round of the playoffs.
With so much already earned, the casual fan may have looked at the regular season finale against Ellison as a contest with not much at stake. But there was, for the Panthers, as their 63-28 victory over the Eagles capped off a perfect regular season.
“You always want to try to do the best you can,” Midway coach Jeff Hulme said. “I think it’d be unrealistic to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go 10-0.’ You just want to play well and get better every week. If it goes your way certain times then you have a chance. As we got closer, we started talking about it a little bit. This is only the seventh time in Midway history that a team has ever started 10-0. They made some history tonight which was pretty neat.”
After forcing Ellison to punt on 3-and-out its first drive, it took Midway merely tow plays and 19 seconds to find the end zone as James Fullbright came up with a big block to open a lane for Tanner Mordecai to break through for the 50-yard touchdown.
The Panthers went up 14-0 after an interception by Parker Nall set things up for Midway at the 26-yard line. It only took one play for Mordecai to find David Priebe for the 26-yard touchdown.
While the offense continued to find the end zone, the Midway defense continued to stuff Ellison. The Eagles punted on three of their first five drives. The other two ended with Nall’s interception and a fumble.
Behind the defense’s success, the Panthers went up 21-0 as Demarcus Degrate beat his man, and Mordecai hit him over the top in stride for the 70-yard touchdown.
“Tanner’s special,” Hulme said. “You don’t run across many quarterbacks like that in your lifetime as a coach. I mean, he’s as good as they come.”
The Eagles didn’t give up, however as they found a formula that worked in the second half. And that formula’s name is Jyaire Shorter. After he beat h is man down the right sideline for the 59-yard touchdown reception from Ta’Von Gwynn, he scored twice more in the quarter for the Eagles. He used his speed for a 47-yard touchdown reception before Gwynn hit him on the fade for an 11-yard score later in the quarter.
Shorter finished with four catches for 127 yards and three touchdowns on the night. Gwynn went 11 for 23 for 252 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Midway led by as many as 35-14 with 4:46 left in the second quarter before Breezion Spiller went turbo. Spiller caught a screen pass on the right side of the field on the Eagle 26-yard line before crossing to the left side of the field and racing just out of reach of the Midway defenders down the sideline for the 76-yard touchdown.
On Ellison’s next drive, it seemed as if the Eagles would have to settle for a field goal, but a personal foul called on Midway took Ellison from 4th and 10 on the Panther 20-yard line to 1st and goal on the Midway 10-yard line. The Eagles needed only two plays to get in the end zone and cut Midway’s lead to seven points.
Midway had to answer. The Panthers started their drive with 36 seconds left in the first half. After a pair of dropped passes, Mordecai hit Cobe Burch for a 21-yard gain before threading the needle to connect with Williams, who was in double coverage, for the 25-yard touchdown which gave the Panthers a 14-point edge at the half.
“I think the offensive line was dominating,” Hulme said. “I think they have been all year, but they’ve gotten better and better each week. If those guys are getting better and better each week, we’ve got a chance”
The Panthers built off that momentum in a big way. Five plays into the third quarter, Mordecai broke loose down the sideline for a 52-yard touchdown. Midway went on to score twice more in the third quarter to extend its lead.
Ellison never scored again.
“We made a couple minor (defensive) adjustments at halftime which is what good teams do,” Hulme said. “Our kids executed. We executed better in the second half. We tackled better in the second half. That’s what happens.”
The starters didn’t play the fourth quarter for the Panthers. Mordecai finished 24 of 37 for 390 yards and five touchdowns. The senior quarterback also carried the ball five times for 155 yards and two scores.
Williams led the Panther receivers with seven catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Degrate wasn’t far behind him with four receptions for 117 yards and a pair of scores.
Fullbright finished with five carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns behind a dominant performance by the offensive line, especially from Kaitori Leveston and Hakeem White. Defensively, Jaxon Player finished with a pair of sacks and a slew of quarterback hurries, while Nall recorded a pair of interceptions.
“It’s amazing because the regular season is over, and that’s hard to believe,” Hulme said. “Ten games goes by really fast. It’s had to be 10-0. I don’t care how good a team you have. You have to have the ball bounce your way a few times and you have to overcome adversity in these games and these kids did that. I truly believe it’s a testament to our team chemistry. They love being around each other. They like to practice the game. It’s showed so far.”
Now, the Panthers turn their attention to the playoffs as they host Grand Prairie at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at Panther Stadium.
“I expect it to be packed,” Hulme said. “I think our kids, our student body, are going to do a great job. I think our community is going to show up in droves. This place is going to be rocking next Friday night.”