And just like that, the Panthers are the outright kings of District 12-6A.
Using the familiar duo of quarterback Nick Jimenez and running back James Fullbright, with a little mix of defense and fine receiving, Midway eased past Belton, 53-21 Friday night, cementing Midway’s place atop of its respective district yet again.
With the win and a loss by Temple, the Panthers will jump to Division I and host Mesquite High next weekend at Panther Stadium.
“Super proud of our kids, you know, with the way we started out,” Midway head coach Jeff Hulme said. “We just got better each and every week. We took that positive step forward – they weren’t always big steps forward — but we started believing in ourselves and started rolling.”
Though Belton, a team that racked up 149 points the previous two weeks, was on the wrong side of the scoring most of the first half – or game for that matter – the scoreboard operator had no time to doze off as the teams combined for 60 points in the first 24 minutes.
One could only assume the Panthers were catching their bearings in the first moments of the opening quarter. After a quick three-and-out in which Midway allowed just three yards, the Panthers set up shop at their own 41 and meticulously marched 59 yards in 13 plays, eating up nearly half of the quarter. Quarterback Nick Jimenez somehow found wideout Will Nixon for an 18-yard score, a throw that narrowly eluded three Tiger defenders on its way to the hands of the junior speedster.
Hulme’s offense used a perfect balance on the tone-setting drive, throwing the ball seven times while keeping it on the ground six.
“I think anytime our offense can get into a rhythm is a good thing,” Hulme said. “If we can be balanced like that, that makes us pretty dangerous.”
But, as Belton quite often has this season, the Tigers answered on the first play of the second quarter, as QB Ruben Jimenez (no relation) optioned to Marques Aguilar for the touchdown from nine yards out. The 10-play drive all but ended each school’s lengthy possessions, as both squads turned on the burners and didn’t look back to finish the half.
Midway running back James Fullbright threw himself in the mix, squirting in from the 12 and after a forced punt, the Panthers extended their lead on a Jimenez pass to D’Ante Thomas, a nifty one-handed catch without a sole in sight. Jimenez finished with 257 passing yards on the night, adding four touchdowns.
A 31-yard Bryce Boland field goal aside, the teams traded touchdowns the rest of the half, with Midway on the receiving side of two Belton turnovers that lead to 10 of Midway’s 39 first-half points. With an 18-point lead with just 24 minutes to go, the Panthers could all but taste a district championship.
“When Nick is throwing the ball around to some good receivers, that makes the defense keep guessing if we are throwing or running” Hulme said.
Desperate to get back in the game, Belton’s defense finally showed up in the second half, forcing Midway to punt on two of its first three possessions of the third quarter, the other an interception by Anthony Fairbanks on an attempted deep ball by Midway’s Jimenez.
But the Panther offense finally broke through on the first play of the fourth quarter on a two-yard score by Fullbright. The stout speedster added his third and final touchdown of the night late in the fourth, amassing 214 yards in the process.
The Midway defense was just that much better in the final two quarters. Holding a team that has scored at will in district play to a goose egg is something that even surprised Hulme.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting a shutout the second half, it was tremendous,” he said. “They did what we asked them to do, and that was finish the game. Let’s finish what we started and I am super proud of these guys.”
Willie Jackson forced a fumble with a sack in the second quarter, setting up the Boland field goal. Another Belton fumble later in the quarter led to a one-handed snag by tight end Caden Quinn for an 11-yard score. Parker Nall picked off Belton’s Jimenez with six seconds left, effectively ending the first half. Ball added his second interception of the night on the second half on an apparent overthrown post pattern at the Midway five yard line.
Midway’s Jimenez sat out three plays in the third quarter after taking a shot on a two-yard run. He walked off the field with little to no help.
“It more or less just stung him. We think it knocked the breath out of him,” Hulme said.
Midway blocked a punt in the fourth, setting up Fullbright’s final touchdown.