DUNCANVILLE – Friday night’s clash between a pair of Panther squads may have been just the district-opener for both teams, but it felt like a must-win game.

Midlothian and Duncanville play in one of the toughest district’s in the state and there is little room for error. The winner of this game would have an immediate leg up in the race for the playoffs in 7-5A.

While Midlothian’s defense played as great as it has all year, especially in the second half, Duncanville pulled out a 19-17 win.

“Our kids played their hearts out. There’s not going to be a game that we play that they aren’t going to give it everything they’ve got at all times,” Midlothian coach Lee Wiginton said. “Duncanville is a great team. We’re disappointed, but it’s the first district ball game and the season isn’t over. We just have to pick up the pieces and go back to work.”

Midlothian trailed 19-3 with six minutes left in the second quarter after a fumble was picked up in the backfield by Duncanville linebacker Za’Carrius Green and returned 26 yards for a touchdown. From that point on, Midlothian allowed just 36 yards of offense and just three first downs.

“I thought they played well all night and Duncanville is an explosive team. They are hard to stop and I thought our coaches did an excellent job and the players executed the plan flawlessly,” Wiginton said. “They played well enough to win and we got down close and had opportunities and we just came up a little short.”

Midlothian senior linebacker Roman Brown was all over the field anchoring that lockdown defense.

“If we can play like we did in the second half the whole game, we would be a whole lot better,” Brown said. “We weren’t used to their fast-paced offense at first. They roll and the quarterback likes to scramble and the best we can do is try and stay with our man as long as we can.”

Duncanville quarterback Jeremiah Drake had been averaging 313 yards per game before Friday, but Midlothian held him to just 159. All of that came in the first quarter and a half and it looked like he was going to lead his Panthers to a blow out before the Midlothian defense stiffened.

After suffering the big blow after the fumble returned for a touchdown in the second quarter, the Midlothian offense got back to work at a methodical pace. After a 13-play drive that ate up 4:40 on the game clock Midlothian scored on a 29-yard run by Victor Williams around the left end. He touched the ball on six of those 13 plays and racked up 71 of the 86 yards.

“He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s got linemen that are doing everything they can for him,” Wiginton said of Williams. “There are other backs leading and receivers blocking, it’s just a good team effort.”

Zach Humphreys hit a wide open Jacob Montes on the two-point conversion to make it a one-possession game. Williams finished with 213 total yards, 163 rushing, on the day.

The second half started with the two teams trading punts for the first six possessions. Duncanville’s first punt of the fourth quarter was a short one and Midlothian took over at its own 45-yard line. A 22-yard run by Humphreys got his team deep in Duncanville territory, but three straight short runs and an incomplete pass on fourth down ended the drive with just four minutes left in the game.

Once again, the Midlothian defense stood firm and forced a three-and-out and an even shorter punt as Midlothian took over at the Duncanville 40-yard line with 2:08 left in the game.

Williams ran three times for 12 yards to get to the 28-yard line. There Humphreys connected with Alex Cazares for a perfectly placed 28-yard touchdown pass to get Midlothian to within two. That set up the potential tying two-point conversion.

It was a pass over the middle, intended for Montes, but Duncanville defended it well and swatted it to the ground. Midlothian needed to recover the onside kick, but Duncanville fell on it and sealed its win.

This game was Humphreys’, a sophomore, first start at quarterback after junior starter Jimmy Fouse suffered a season-ending foot injury in the loss to Justin Northwest the week before. Humphreys finished with seven completions for 93 yards and a touchdown.

“It’s tough on anybody to jump in and have your first game be a district game and as a sophomore it’s asking a lot,” Wiginton said. “But Zach is a tremendous competitor, athlete and leader and we’re really proud of the way he played.”

Midlothian (2-2, 0-1 in 7-5A) will host Grand Prairie (1-3, 0-1 in 7-5A) at 7:30 p.m. Friday for its homecoming game.