Ellis County football previews: Panthers facing task of retooling
Graduation of 41 lettermen leaves MHS with some question marks
The sting of missing the playoffs not because of on-the-field results, but because of a ruling by administrators, took a while to wear off for the Midlothian Panthers.
The Panthers finished 6-3 overall during a topsy-turvy 2020 season beset by COVID-19 cancellations, and finished 4-3 in District 4-5A (Division I) games. The Panthers drubbed Mansfield Summit on the day after Thanksgiving, 49-30.
But a Christmas lump of coal was left on their doorstep the following week when the district executive committee ruled that playoff seedings would be decided by winning percentage. The decision put Summit into the playoffs and left MHS out in the cold.
All Summit did was advance all the way to 5A Division I state semifinals, upsetting Colleyville Heritage and Red Oak along the way and battling eventual state champion Denton Ryan to a semifinal loss.
All that is in the past, however, and the Panthers are looking forward to a fresh start.
Head coach Doug Wendel, entering his seventh season at MHS, has lots of talent on his roster that is untested.
“Our offensive skill players are faster than we have played with,” Wendel said. “We have very little game experience on the team, especially our offensive and defensive linemen. Weekly improvement will be important.”
The graduation of 41 lettermen hit the Panthers hard across the board, with only wide receiver Tae Jackson and offensive lineman Brock Cavender returning on offense. A crop of rising sophomores will be asked to step up. Among them are running back Michael Garber and receiver Bryant Wesco.
Defensively, MHS has some returning veterans at linebacker and defensive back, but newcomers will populate the four down lineman positions. Drew Colman and Marcus McKenzie are the returning linebackers, with Mikail Denton and Austen Lowe back on pass coverage. Braydon Smith and Daylon Smith, both sophomores, are newcomers in the D-line and secondary respectively.
The Panthers will open the season next Friday at Fort Worth Brewer, then will host Forney at MISD Multipurpose Stadium. MHS will travel to Wichita Falls Rider on Sept. 10, making up a game the Panthers were forced to cancel last year because of a positive COVID-19 case.
After a district-wide open date on Sept. 17, the Panthers will travel to Birdville for the start of district play. Homecoming is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 22 against Mansfield Legacy. All games will begin at 7 p.m.
“Our district is very strong,” Wendel said. “It’s the best, the toughest, the deepest in the state in 5A Division I.”
District 4-5A (I): Midlothian Panthers
Head coach: Doug Wendel (7th year at school, 32-30; 15th year overall, 79-73)
2020 record: 6-3, 4-3
Returning lettermen: 9
Returning starters: 2 offense, 4 defense