MANSFIELD – The sports cliché goes “defense wins championships.” It certainly has the Midlothian boys soccer team in position to do just that.

In a season that has seen the Panther offense flutter between prolific and anemic, the defense has been strong if not the backbone of the squad. And with some turnover from last season and the move to 5A, that has been far from easy.

“We’ve stepped up pretty good. It’s not as easy to score goals on these teams either. We’ve just stepped up and played our best. That’s all we can do,” senior John Schoonover said.

With district play ending last Friday, the Panthers wrapped up their first season in District 5-5A with impressive numbers. In 14 district games, Midlothian held opponents to one goal or less 12 times with five shutouts.

Those two games with two-plus goals allowed were a 2-2 tie to Mansfield in the regular season finale and a 3-0 loss to eventual district champion Mansfield Legacy just two games into the district slate. On the season, Midlothian finished 0-1-3 against those two teams.

Of those 14 games, the Panthers picked up five ties and cleared three or more goals just three times. The offense might have struggled but the defense has found a rhythm.

“I think our defense has been tremendous this year. I don’t think you can say enough about our back line and (goalie) Scott (Hayden). They’ve been tremendous all year,” coach Austin Guest said. “It’s a senior back line and they’ve played like a senior back line. They’ve shown the kind of maturity you want to see.”

A lot of those seniors were limited in playing time last season with 15 seniors ahead of them on the roster. When those players moved on, it left a lot of roles to fill.

Schoonover, who made the move from center midfield to the defensive back line midway through the season, has helped solidify the unit. Early in the season, the Panthers gave up 12 goals in non-district play and allowed four in a 0-1-1 start to district. Since notching a 1-0 win over Duncanville on Feb. 10, the unit had held all opponents to one goal or less until the two-goal game against Mansfield. In the last 12 games, Midlothian has allowed just seven goals.

Being a senior on that back line is a job Schoonover had to adjust to but it’s one he’s gladly taken on for the better of his team.

“It’s been great. I enjoy the responsibility,” Schoonover said.

With the playoffs set to open next week, the Panthers will need their defense to continue being strong if the team wants to keep advancing. Schoonover is confident the unit will keep doing just that.

If that Panthers can find some strong offensive prowess to go along with that defense, the combination could be enough to make a deep run. If not, the defense will do whatever it has to.

“It was very important that we played well because we haven’t been scoring very well lately. We can’t win without not being able to concede goals,” Schoonover said.

Contact Alex at alex.riley@wninews.com or at 469-517-1456.