MIDLOTHIAN — Down three scores midway through the third quarter is not an ideal situation for an option-first football team to find itself in. It is, however, an excellent starting point for one of the more improbable come-from-behind wins in Midlothian football history.
The Panthers rallied with three second-half touchdowns and one more in overtime for the 29-22 win over Mansfield Timberview on Friday at Midlothian ISD Multipurpose Stadium.
“You don’t see or hear of too many people running the option coming back in ballgames like that. Most people say you can’t,” said Midlothian head football coach Doug Wendel just before Monday’s afternoon practice. “My first thought was of relief and being so proud of our players. I thought their perseverance was phenomenal.”
Wendel said he felt the Panthers began to take control of the football game, or at least their fate, while down 15-0 late in the second quarter. The (2-3, 1-1) Midlothian offensive line began to get a strong push up-front, which allowed for the Panther ground game to start wearing down the (2-3, 1-1) Timberview defense.
“I knew that we were running a lot of plays and felt like if we could keep that up and just not beat ourselves that they (Timberview) might start getting a little fatigued. I think that may have been a little bit of the case, but I also thought we got stronger, as well,” Wendel added.
The Panthers ran 85 offensive plays during the four quarters and overtime. Landry Songer and Austen Thomas each carried the football 28 times for 112 and 163 yards, respectively. Songer scored three rushing touchdowns in his return to the gridiron, including a two-yard touchdown in overtime and one-yard run that preceded the Thomas two-point conversion run to tie the ballgame at 22 with 1:26 to play in the third quarter.
According to Wendel, Songer made a “tremendous difference and added a little bit more firepower” to the Midlothian backfield and complimented Marco Peters (5-12) to complete a one-two punch at the fullback position.
The Panthers ran for 356 yards against the Wolves’ defense on 73 carries. In addition to Thomas, Songer, and Peters, Nolan Samek carried the football nine times for 48 yards and one touchdown. Brant McLemore added one carry for 14 yards, and JT Cavender had seven yards on two totes.
Thomas and Samek also each completed a pass on a combined six attempts for 52 yards — one each to Wesley Lowe (39 yards) and Thomas (13 yards). Thomas caught his pass late in the fourth quarter on a double pass back to the quarterback.
For Timberview, Jyron Russell completed 10-of-16 passes for 196 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. He also had six carries for 43 yards and two scores on a night when the Wolves accounted for 473 total yards of offense.
Montaye Dawson carried the ball 11 times for 87 yards to lead the pack, while Jalen Knox and Jaden Hullaby each had six carries for 42 and 36 yards, respectively. Knox also led all receivers with five grabs for 123 yards and one touchdown.
As a team, though, Timberview committed 16 penalties for 115 yards, compared to the four penalties for 32 yards of Midlothian.
Wendel said he thought the Panther defense did a good job of setting the edge and containing Timberview ball carriers in the outside-run game. Midlothian also forced four turnovers (3 interceptions), which included a fumble recovery in overtime to end the ball game.
“We have been preaching turnovers for a long time, so it was nice to see that come to fruition,” Wendel explained. “Overall, it took everybody and it was a great team effort. It was just a great story of perseverance.”
“[…] To hold them under 30 points, I thought our defense did a really good job. We made some improvements and I thought they flew around and tackled well,” the head coach added. “Everything we do here is team oriented. Part of the reason we were so successful on defense was because our offense was on the field so much grinding the clock down and we made some plays on defense to get the stops.”
It is no secret to Wendel that the Panthers will be seen as underdogs quite often in 2017 after a 1-9 season last year.
Even still, Wendel said his team entered Friday’s contest with their minds set on controlling what they could on their sideline and side of the football.
On Friday, the Panthers needed to prove capable of more consistent play on the offensive side of the football — and did it.
“I think we just took the approach that we were going to do what we do. We felt pretty good about our possibility of moving the football and I don’t think too many people have just completely shut us down in the three years of being here,” Wendel said. “Legacy did in the first half last week and played phenomenal defense. But, when we looked back at the tape, we felt like we made some mistakes.
He added, “We felt like we did a good job of improving in all of those areas. As a result, and it wasn’t always pretty, but we felt like we played better.”
ON THE MEND
Senior defensive lineman Morgan Michalka was taken off of the field on a stretcher Friday evening and transported to an area hospital as a precaution after receiving a head injury.
Wendel said the protocol is standard for the injury and noted Michalka was “feeling better and back at school” on Monday.
Midlothian now sits in a four-way tie for third place with (3-2, 1-1) Mansfield Summit, Timberview and (3-2, 1-1) Waxahachie.
The Panthers will take this Friday off before traveling down US Highway 287 to square off with the Indians. It will be the homecoming game for Waxahachie, who defeated Red Oak 44-24 on Friday.
Quarterback Bryse Salik leads the Indian offense and District 10-5A with 1,387 passing yards on the season. The senior has 15 touchdowns to just five interceptions and has completed 74 percent of his passes (101-of-137).
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13 at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium in Waxahachie.
“We haven’t even thought about (the Waxahachie game) really. We are going to spend this week healing up and focusing on our execution so we can do things a little bit better on offense and defense,” Wendel added. “We will have a plan and go down there and play Waxahachie, but this week our focus is going to be on us.”