By all accounts, Red Oak did not look like the team that was playing its’ first playoff game in 24 years on Friday.
The Hawks took advantage of five Midway turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns in a 35-21 win over the Panthers at Lumpkins Stadium.
“We’ve been telling the kids we have already played six playoff games during district in order to get to this point,” Shields said. “To heck with experience, we had experience. Obviously that mentality paid off for us.”
Red Oak has relied heavily on a stingy defense to get into the playoffs and it did not disappoint again Friday.
The Hawks returned a fumble for a touchdown on Midway’s first offensive play and never looked back.
Midway running back John Hubert rushed for 140 yards, but he also fumbled twice. The Hawks recovered two other fumbles, the last coming in the final minute at the Panthers were driving.
“Those two fumble returns were the difference in the game,” Shields said. “We had a bend don’t break rule. Their running back had a pretty good game, but he had to earn everything he got.”
Red Oak’s offense was just as effective early in the game with plays of 60, 51 and 38 yards on its first three drives.
On the Hawks’ first possession, they moved the ball to the Midway 47-yard line before Nic Boyd was dropped for two straight losses.
With the ball sitting on the 40-yard line, quarterback Kevin Pruett threw a middle screen to Taylor McCuller, who then outraced the Midway defense for a 60-yard touchdown.
On Midway’s first offensive play, Hubert was dropped for a 4-yard loss and lost control of the ball.
McCuller scooped up the loose ball and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown to give the Hawks a 14-0 lead with 9:34 left in the first quarter.
“He’s one of our go-to guys,” Shields said of McCuller. “He did it again tonight. He definitely came to play.”
Red Oak’s offense continued to roll in the second quarter. Just one minute into the quarter, Pruett connected with Seth Rushing on a 38-yard touchdown pass for a 21-0 lead.
Midway got on the board with its next possession as the Panthers drove 64 yards in 11 plays with quarterback Todd Glaesmann scoring on a 1-yard run.
The Hawks appeared to have Midway stopped when a receiver dropped a pass and third-and-eight.
A penalty, however, negated the play and Hubert got the first down with an 11-yard run.
Midway threatened again late in the first half when it drove to Red Oak’s 11-yard line.
A pair of incompletions and a run that did not gain anything led to a 28-yard field goal attempt that missed to the right.
Midway cut Red Oak’s lead to seven late in the third quarter.
An interception return gave the Panthers a first down at Red Oak’s 12-yard line and four Hubert runs netted a touchdown with 1:21 left in the third.
The Panthers had a chance to pull even midway through the fourth quarter, but a fumble and 44-yard touchdown return by Red Oak’s Timmy Hooper pushed the Hawks’ lead back to 14 with 7:21 left in the game.
With just over two minutes remaining, Midway cut the deficit to seven with a13-yard touchdown pass from Glaesman to Matt Davis.
After an onside kick, Boyd put the game out of reach with a 60-yard touchdown run with 1:39 left.
The run was one of only two by Boyd that went for more than seven yards.
“He’s one of those kids you know you have to keep feeding him the ball because it opens things up for everyone else,” Shields said of Boyd. “He did a great job of holding on to the ball and you knew he was going to break one eventually.”
Red Oak’s defense sealed the win on Midway’s next drive as the Hawks forced their fourth fumble of the game, which was picked up by Jermon Harris.
The Hawks will play Spruce in the Area Round of the state playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Midlothian.