KILLEEN — The Midway Panthers are still trying to figure out who they are this season with so many key pieces of their 15-1 Class 6A state finalist from a year ago gone on to the next level.
But thanks to a gritty effort by the Midway defense against the Killeen Kangaroos on Thursday night, the Panthers can go to school Friday with a district win to their credit.
Panthers kicker Bryce Boland booted a 21-yard go-ahead field goal midway through the fourth quarter. Quarterback Nick Jimenez added a vital insurance touchdown run as Midway claimed a 13-10 victory over the Kangaroos at Leo Buckley Stadium.
“That might be who we are this year,” Midway coach Jeff Hulme said. “Last year we were very good offensively and I’ve been saying all along I thought our defense was pretty good. They showed up tonight, which was great. We needed it.”
Midway (1-1, 1-0 in District 12-6A) struggled with a pair of first-half turnovers and then a couple of misadventures in the punting game that gave Killeen prime chances to score in the second half.
Panthers punter Zach Brown scooped up a rolling punt snap and made a mad dash from inside his own 10-yard line before Killeen defenders tackled him at the 12 late in the third quarter.
But Midway’s front seven shut down the Kangaroos running game from point blank range.
The Panthers then came up with the vital play of the contest — a blocked field-goal try which defensive back Za’Carius Murray brought back to the Midway 42.
Murray’s return ignited the Midway sideline and the Panthers offense produced their best drive of the second half. Midway running back James Fullbright rushed for 18 yards on the march and caught a screen pass for 12 yards to convert a key third-and-11 play. Jiminez connected with D’Ante Thomas for a 22-yard gain deep into Kangaroos territory.
All of that set up Boland’s 21-yard field goal.
Fullbright finished with 99 rushing yards on 27 carries.
“James is James. He’s going to pound it and pound it,” Hulme said. “You may stop him for a while, but after a little while he’s going to break off those 10-yard first down runs and that’s what we needed.”
After the Panthers went ahead, the Midway defense came up with another big three-and-out on Killeen’s ensuing possession.
Jimenez’s seven-yard touchdown run with 3:47 remaining capped a 40-yard drive and proved very necessary.
Killeen finally broke a big play when quarterback James Terry hit running back Kadarius Marshall for a 59-yard touchdown with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter.
But Midway’s J.J. Davis recovered the onside kick that followed.
Panthers running back Will Nixon sealed the win when he darted 48 yards on a third-and-19 from the Midway 37. That let the Panthers run out the clock and claim its first win of the season.
The Panthers and Kangaroos each scored on their first possessions, but then the defenses took over and they fought to a 3-3 stalemate at halftime.
Midway appeared to start the game with its offense going full speed. Fullbright rumbled 18 yards on the Panthers’ first offensive play, then Jimenez hit Demarcus Degrate for a nine-yard gain.
The Panthers cruised to the Killeen 10, gaining 65 yards on 6 plays. But Midway stalled there and couldn’t pierce the Kangaroo 5. The Panthers settled for kicker Bryce Boland’s 23-yard field goal to tie it at 3.
Killeen gained five first downs on its game-opening offensive drive. But the Panthers put up a wall after that, only allowing the Kangaroos to move the chains three more times for the rest of the half.
Meanwhile, turnovers kept Midway from breaking the tie before the break.
The Panthers had a good opportunity to score before the half when they took over on downs at their own 43 with 2:05 left in the second quarter. But when Jimenez took off running with open field in front of him, a Kangaroo defender stripped the ball out of his right hand and defensive back Willie McGee recovered for Killeen.
The Panthers forced a three-and-out before the end of the second quarter, but it only set up another miscue. Jimenez threw deep for Degrate, but Killeen’s Tavion Grant intercepted the pass.
Killeen outgained Midway 140-118 in total yards in the first half and won the turnover battle 2-0. But the Kangaroos couldn’t manage an advantage on the scoreboard.