MIDLOTHIAN — The way Midlothian High School dealt the Indians a 14-0 proverbial punch in the face to start Friday's football game at MISD Multipurpose Stadium, a 42-21 Waxahachie High School win may have seemed far-fetched.
Most times, though, it's less about how you start and more about how you finish.
"Midlothian, like Mansfield Legacy, is a hard offense to face," Head Coach Jon Kitna said, his shoes making a crunching sound as he walked onto the stadium's cement field entrance ramp. "You can't simulate that system. We had our first team offense trying to run it and it's hard to simulate how fast it happens, where the ball is hitting and how good they are at it. I had resigned myself that they might jump on us early."
Through five 2016 high school football games, the Indians have customarily sprinted to early and insurmountable leads, but Friday night, the Panthers turned the tables out of their favor.
Midlothian needed only 13 plays and three series to gain a two-touchdown lead after Jarreth Sterns' 32-yard sprint to the end zone and Landry Songer's 14-yard bullrush through the middle of the Indian defense.
"They got a couple quick ones at the beginning, but they buckled down, played hard," said Indian Assistant Coach Evan Brady about the defense's reaction to an early deficit and the first of the season. "The thing we preach is, 'doing your job' and that's what they did. We made a couple adjustments, came out with a game plan and everyone did what they were supposed to do. They have some big, strong kids and a great quarterback, but we have the athletes to play with anyone."
The Indians responded by following up junior quarterback Bryse Salik's touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jalen Reagor and a two-yard scoring run by senior running back Eris Miles with a second-quarter Cayman Lane fumble recovery. The turnover, which came on a stuffed JT Cavender run attempt, set up Waxahachie senior Trey Jackson's 31-yard touchdown run and earned the Indians a 21-14 lead — their first of the game.
After allowing more than 180 yards of total offense through the first two quarters the Indian defense forced a momentum-building turnover and after 75 more after seven minutes of second half, Waxahachie's defense forced its second. The Panthers' lone opportunity to score during a third quarter drive was spoiled by Cavender's near score and red zone fumble returned 93 yards to the Midlothian seven-yards line by Indian Kade Tomlinson.
"One of the main character traits we look for is resiliency," Kitna added. "We talked about it before the game and they handled it well. There was no panic, bad body language or finger pointing. They just set their faces and kept on playing."
On the next drive, courtesy of an eight-play and 53-yard scoring drive capped by a Songer run, Midlothian tied the game and scored its last touchdown of the game.
The Panthers gained 249 yards on 32 carries and scored three touchdowns during the first two quarters, more than half of their game total of 431 rushing yards. Songer, who earned the Panthers' share of carries, ran for 211 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Sterns, the team's second-leading rusher, gained 112 yards on 18 carries and scored one touchdown. He also broke up a scoring opportunity by intercepting a Salik pass in the third quarter.
Waxahachie paired the running of Miles (14 rush, 48 yards, 2 TDs) with the production of Kenedy Snell (4 rush, 80 yds, 1 TD) and Reagor (6 rec, 120 yds, 1 TD) to score 21 points in the final 24 minutes and outpace their county rival. Reagor also threw a touchdown pass — a 23-yard strike to Snell — during the third quarter and nearly missed scoring via the pass, run and reception after Midlothian stopped his three-yard rush at the goal line.
The Indians gained 337 total yards — including more than 150 in the final half — against Midlothian. Waxahachie has averaged at least 300 total yards in each of its six season games.
"These boys are starting to grow as men and beginning to understand what we're telling them," Brady said, stroking facial stubble and squinting as if looking for the perfect words to describe his players' initial reaction. "They never had a glazy look like they were getting knocked out. When you have 11 guys playing as a group with none acting like superstars, you win together and overcome obstacles you normally wouldn't without that mindset."
The Indians will face Kameron Session and the Mansfield Legacy High School 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lumpkins Stadium. Session, who's accumulated 866 yards and eight touchdowns this season is No. 12 in the 5A class regarding rushing yardage, leads a Broncos' team in a three-way tie with Mansfield Timberview and Lake Ridge High Schools for third place in the district.