Truthfully, Terry Gambill never saw this matchup coming.
When Gambill left Midway for the head job at Allen High School in 2016, he figured it was unlikely that his new team would ever hook up with his old team. But hit the commercial skip button a couple of times, and here we are in 2018 – with the 6A Division I reigning state champion Eagles coming to Waco and Baylor’s McLane Stadium to grapple with those plucky Midway Panthers in the regional final.
“I never thought we would play,” Gambill admitted. “I figured Midway, with its enrollment, would stay Division II and that we’d stay in Division I, so with the playoff structure the way it is, it didn’t seem like it would happen. But the big deal is, at ball games, in practice, I’m really so focused on the Allen Eagles – and that’s no disrespect to the opponent – but I’m so focused on what we’re doing offensively, defensively and in the kicking game, that I’m not always worried about who’s across the field.”
Third-year Midway head coach Jeff Hulme understands that some fans might fixate on the head coaching matchup in this one. But it’s more about the players, Hulme said.
“There might be (a storyline) to some people in the community,” Hulme said. “They might’ve been mad at Coach Gambill for leaving, it’s really not a lot different than when I left Mansfield. That’s the coaching world.
“The good thing is, for everybody involved, it’s not Coach Gambill versus Coach Hulme. That would be an ugly fight. It’s two teams going at each other. He’s got a great team, and I feel like I have a great team. So from that standpoint, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Great team doesn’t begin to describe Allen, which has lost only once in Gambill’s three years at the helm. The Eagles have won their past 29 games, and feature possibly the state’s most potent pass-catch combination in quarterback Grant Tisdale, an Ole Miss commit, and receiver Theo Wease Jr., who is headed to Oklahoma.
“You see a lot with the history. They’ve earned it, obviously,” Hulme said. “They’re a great program, and they look the part. They’ve got a lot of kids out there and they roll kids in and out, a lot of depth. So they’re able to stay fresh. But they’re also a high school team.
“Size-wise, they don’t overwhelm you on defense. Their offensive line is bigger than your average offensive line in high school, so that’s real good for them offensively. But they’ve played some close games. You’ve just got to go out there and play.”
The Panthers comprehend the task before them. They know it won’t be easy. But they’re also adopting the old mindset of, respect all, fear none.
“They’re a good team, they have skill, but they’re pretty simple,” Midway safety Parker Nall said of Allen. “I think we all think we can hang with them, we all think we can beat them. None of us are scared to play them, we’re all ready for the task.”
Midway’s confidence is surging after last week’s epic comeback win over Klein Oak. The Panthers trailed 24-0 at the half before storming back to steal a 28-27 victory.
“It gives us confidence, for sure, because now we know that if we are down by however many, we have the ability to come back and play with that team,” said Nall, whose 47-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter sparked the Panther rally.
Allen’s Gambill has naturally spent a good chunk of this week examining Midway’s tendencies on film. And what he sees is pretty clear – the Panthers are one of the best teams in the state.
“Midway has a great, great offense. James Fullbright is as good a running back as we’ve faced all year,” Gambill said. “They’ve got some really skilled receivers and a good offensive line, they’re well-coached. It’s a really outstanding offense that will present a lot of challenges. Defensively, they come at you with a 3-4 and it’s a dang good defense, too. We’re going to have to play hard and limit any mistakes.”
If Gambill would have had his way, this game would have been played at Mesquite Memorial Stadium. The two coaches flipped for the game site, with Gambill choosing that venue and Hulme going with Baylor’s McLane Stadium.
Naturally, Hulme was happy that he won the flip.
“To me, it’s unbelievable, to be right here at McLane, to win the flip, to get them to come down here, I think it was special for our team, great for our community and our fans who are going to want to come,” Hulme said. “I think it’s going to be an electric atmosphere there, because Allen travels well and their fans are going to come. One week you’re playing at Kyle Field, the next week you’re playing at McLane, and whoever’s lucky enough to win this game gets to play at AT&T next week. So it’s just going to be a lot of fun.”
Gambill said he’s looking forward to the matchup, too. He spent six years at Midway, racking up a 68-13 record with the Panthers, including a trip to the Class 4A Division I state championship game in 2011.
Sure, it’ll be a little strange looking across the way and seeing Midway on the opposite sideline. But the fact that his allegiances have changed doesn’t diminish his appreciation for his time in Waco.
“Midway will always have a special place in my heart,” Gambill said. “It’s such a great community and school district. It allowed my family to grow and provided so much for my family. Midway didn’t have to take a chance on Terry Gambill – it was my first head coaching job. I’ll always be thankful to (former athletic director) Randy Weisinger and Midway ISD for the six wonderful years I had there. … And I always wish them the best – except those four quarters they’re playing Allen on Saturday.”