SAN ANTONIO – Whatever happened in the Midlothian locker room at halftime must have made a dramatic impact on the football team. For 23 minutes in the second half, the Panthers turned a miserable start into a rally for the ages.
But it was the 24th minute that proved to be just a little too much.
After a dramatic comeback for a 24-21 lead, Boerne Champion used a 39-yard toss from Taylor Davis to David Massey to ultimately seal a 28-24 victory in the second game of the Texas Football Classic.
“It’s going to take a little bit to get over it,” Midlothian coach Robby Clark said. “Anytime you compete you want to win and anytime you lose like that you kind of feel like you get in your own way a little bit. We’ve got to overcome that.”
The obstacles Midlothian (0-1) was forced to overcome in its season opener against Champion (1-0) came in large part to self-inflicted wounds. Four first half turnovers resulted in both of the Chargers’ scoring drives.
An interception on a screen pass set up Champion running back Brent Sutherland for a 29-yard scamper while a fumble on a delayed handoff led to a Tim Tebow-esque jump ball pass from John Free to Dean Rittiman for a 14-0 Charger lead.
The Panthers stopped the bleeding as time expired in the first half with a quick drive that was aided by some timely Champion penalties. A 35-yard reception by Mason York from Dillon Fairbanks set up a 27-yard field goal try for Dillon Wilson which made it 14-3 at the half.
That’s when things started changing for Midlothian as a different team seemed to come out of the locker room. After throwing three first half interceptions, Fairbanks came out gunning on the first drive.
“In the locker room, coaches and players they all got in all of our faces and said we’re going to turn it around in the second half,” Fairbanks said. “So, we did it.”
The junior completed his first three passes of 10, 6 and 13 yards to start the third period. A 12-yard run by Michael Glenn set the Panthers up at the 19-yard line as Fairbanks eyed wide receiver Derrick Agbaroji for a quick touchdown strike. The point after attempt was blocked making it 14-9 Champion.
The Chargers padded the lead on their third possession of the half with a touchdown run by Free to make it 21-9. After trading punts for the next four possessions, Midlothian began its rally yet again at the 25-yard line. A run by Fairbanks gained one yard and a defensive penalty of illegal participation moved the ball up another 15 to the 43-yard line. Again Fairbanks eyed Agbaroji who sped down the left sideline on a streak route into the end zone for a 57-yard pitch and catch play that made it 21-16 with the extra point.
Champion tried its best to eat as much clock as possible on the next possession with three straight running plays, but left plenty of time on the clock and was forced to punt. A 33-yard kick pinned Midlothian at the 25-yard marker.
An incompletion on the first play stopped the clock but it was the next play that stopped the heart of Charger fans. Fairbanks, who had tried on three separate passes earlier in the night to connect on a fade route with Eddie Johnson, lobbed a ball into double coverage on the right side of the field.
Johnson did the rest.
Leaping in between the defenders, Johnson took the ball away with a showcase in physical receiving and waltzed into the end zone for a 75-yard scoring pass to make it 22-21. Clark and the coaching staff then called for the two-point conversion to stretch the Panther lead to four. They also called once again on Johnson. A quick throw and leaping catch over a defender gave the team the two-point conversion and a 24-21 lead with 2:30 remaining.
“I threw it up there and he went and got it,” Fairbanks said with a smile. He finished the night 17-for-30 with 280 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions.
That’s when Champion got a little bit of luck and good fortune. After Davis rushed for an 11-yard gain, he threw an errant pass towards the sideline that looked like it could have been an interception. Instead, the ball was tipped and the Chargers got another chance. They would make the most of it.
On third and a half a yard, Champion was stuffed for no gain to bring up fourth down. An illegal motion penalty moved the ball back five yards making it a fourth and five situation. A quick pass in the zone to Ervin Smith from Davis resulted in a gain of eight and a first down that kept the drive alive.
Two plays later, Davis connected with Rittiman for the would-be game winner with 1:01 to play. The Panthers gained 22 yards on the last drive but a final pass fell incomplete to seal the defeat.
Midlothian was hit five times for penalties totaling 55 yards while Champion was hit for 120 yards on 10 markers. Both teams also had players ejected for fighting during the game. Clark believes that eliminating those mistakes might have been the difference between a perfect start and just a great effort.
“We cannot continue to have 15-yard penalties that kill us, retaliations, kids getting kicked out of games. But when we were steady, we were pretty good,” Clark said. “We gave up two scores in the first half off turnovers and they had a short field and some momentum. But I think both sides of the ball have a lot of things to build on and things that can not just make us a competitive team but make us a great team.”
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