The Midway Panthers have gotten used to long trips into the playoffs in the last decade or more.
So when visiting Tyler Lee threatened to steal the momentum from the Panthers in their bi-district game, Midway simply stepped on the gas.
Midway scored three straight touchdowns in the fourth quarter to separate from the Red Raiders and claimed a 35-7 first-round playoff victory on Friday night at Panther Stadium.
In doing so, the Panthers notched their ninth bi-district victory this decade. Midway saw its long district winning streak come to an end earlier this season. But the last three weeks, the Panthers have held up the program’s strong tradition.
Midway (8-3) defeated Killeen Shoemaker, Temple and Belton during the final three games of the regular season to win the District 12-6A championship. They showed from the early going on Friday night that they were intent on moving deeper into the Class 6A Division II playoffs.
“We came into the game knowing that we’ve got our home crowd behind us and we were pumped,” Panthers senior defensive lineman Carson Byrd said. “This season has had a lot of ups and downs, but we were ready for it.”
Midway will meet McKinney, a 13-10 winner of Garland Naaman Forest, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Mansfield Newsom Stadium.
Tyler Lee (6-5) cut Midway’s lead to 14-7 when quarterback Trent Adams connected with fullback Jamal Ligon for a 23-yard touchdown with 4:06 remaining in the third quarter.
The Red Raiders seemed to have the momentum as their defense had kept Midway from gaining a first down for the Panthers’ first three possessions of the second half.
But Midway quarterback Jared Moore changed that by hitting wide receiver Jaylon Gibson for a 57-yard strike on the second play of the fourth quarter. Gibson’s catch and run deep into Tyler Lee territory, plus a roughing the passer on the Red Raiders gave Midway a fresh set of downs at the Tyler Lee 12.
“(Tyler Lee was) really feeling good,” Midway coach Jeff Hulme said. “They were into it, making some big plays, got a big sack. Finally, we were able to get a first down and that tipped it over going our way.”
Midway running back Will Nixon finished the drive with a one-yard TD dive for a 21-7 lead with 10:17 remaining.
The Panthers defense, which held steady all night and came close to pitching a shutout, got a crucial three-and-out on the Red Raiders’ first possession of the fourth quarter.
Then Nixon brought a roar out of the Panther Stadium home crowd. He darted up the middle and ran untouched for a 61-yard touchdown. Nixon finished with 117 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Not quite done yet, Moore, who passed for 235 yards, connected with Gibson for a 64-yard touchdown that sealed it with three minutes left on the clock.
Gibson, a sophomore, had four catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
“He can be pretty good in the next two or three years,” Hulme said. “No doubt about that.”
Midway’s defense controlled the first half, holding the Red Raiders to 78 total yards and three first downs. And the Panthers came up with a consistent string of big defensive plays.
Panthers linebacker ZaCobie Haverly intercepted a pass from Adams and returned it to the Red Raiders’ 41 to set up Midway’s first scoring drive.
The Panthers needed eight plays to move in for the touchdown. Moore turned the takeaway into points with a six-yard scoring run, taking a quarterback draw up the middle on the first play of the second quarter.
The defense also set up Midway’s second touchdown of the first half by stuffing Tyler Lee deep in its own end.
After backup quarterback Mark Patton fell on his own fumble at the Red Raiders’ 2, the Panthers kept Tyler Lee backed up against its own goal line. On third-and-11 from the 3, Panthers safety Eli Garvin and Byrd tackled Raiders running back Jamarion Miller for no gain and Midway quickly called timeout with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter.
The Panthers started their final possession of the first half at the Tyler Lee 48 and required just two plays to reach the end zone. Moore connected with Zach Stewart for half the yards to the goal line. The Panthers quarterback then floated a fade pass to Gibson for a 24-yard touchdown that doubled Midway’s lead to 14-0.
Byrd, who committed to play college football at Trinity earlier this week, posted five tackles, including a sack in the first half.
“That’s the reason why he’s the leader of the defense,” Hulme said. “He’s been the leader of the defense all year. He does exactly what you want him to do. Just super proud of that young man.”
Tyler Lee kept Midway from making too many big plays on offense in the first two quarters. But the Panthers still managed 157 yards of total offense before the break. Moore went to the halftime locker room with 109 passing yards.
Then the Panthers offense and defense complemented each other well in the second half.
“I think we really trust each other,” Byrd said. “The defense has had some bad games this year and the offense has picked us up. The offense has had some bad games and the defense has picked us up. So I think it’s all about trust and the brotherhood that we have.”