MIDLOTHIAN – The Midlothian Panthers took on one of the best teams in the nation Friday night and never backed down.
The DeSoto Eagles are ranked between No. 1 and No. 5 in the nation and no worse than No. 2 in the state according to every major high school football poll. That fact alone could send a team running.
But the Panthers didn’t run away from their opponent and instead went straight at them. That strategy saw Midlothian leading in the second quarter, but it couldn’t hang on in the 62-42 loss.
“These kids just play hard. They really do try hard. It’s fun to watch them play,” Midlothian coach Lee Wiginton said. “I wish they could get in the win column more because it means a lot to them. It doesn’t measure them as men, it doesn’t measure them as athletes. I’m proud of them.”
DeSoto quickly scored on its first offensive drive and forced Midlothian to punt for the second time in the game less five minutes into the contest. It felt like it was going to be a long night.
But that was when the tide turned. Midlothian’s punt bounced off the Eagle return man and gave the Panthers the ball at the DeSoto 35-yard line.
Instead of trying to make a long drive, Midlothian went for the end zone on the first play. Sophomore quarterback Zach Humphreys connected with sophomore wide receiver Keion Sutton, who made a leaping grab with a defender in his face, to score the Panthers’ first touchdown and tie the game at seven.
DeSoto took the ball back and started driving down the field, but senior linebacker Aaron Schroeder made two huge tackles, including one on fourth down to get the ball back for his offense. This time, the Panthers took a more methodical approach. After 11 plays, six of them runs, Victor Williams punched the ball into the end zone to give Midlothian a 14-7 lead with four seconds left in the first quarter.
It didn’t take long for DeSoto to answer as it took just four plays to go 57 yards to tie the game up at 14. That was the first of five straight touchdowns for the Eagles as the began to break away from Midlothian.
“They are unbelievable. Their coaches do a good job and the kids play the game right,” Wiginton said of DeSoto. “They are a good program.”
DeSoto racked up 652 yards of offense, including 370 passing yards for Desmon White. The UNT-commit also rushed for 64 yards, had four touchdown passes and one scoring run. His favorite target was Oklahoma State-commit Chris Lacy, who caught 10 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
Down 42-14 with six minutes left in the third quarter, Midlothian went to its bag of tricks and wide receiver Brendan Cornell took an end around and then threw a 14-yard touchdown pass back to Humphreys to make it 42-21.
The Panthers tried five trick plays on offense and also recovered one of two attempted onside kicks in the game. Wiginton felt like he had to pull out all of the stops for his team to have a shot at the upset.
“We work on those all the time and we go into each game with about five of (the trick plays) and in certain situations we feel like they will work better in,” Wiginton said. “They are a really phenomenal football team. There’s not a place that I look at and say, ‘we’re going to stop them here because they can’t do this or we’re going to beat them here because they are weak there.’ They’re good.”
Sutton caught a 34-yard pass from Humphreys for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter on a delayed motion play.
Midlothian’s offense had struggled in recent weeks, but gained 391 yards and 23 first downs in Friday’s game. One of the big reasons for that was the play of Cornell. The senior wide receiver had eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. He had several big grabs in one-on-one situations with defensive backs.
“It wasn’t good enough to keep up with them, but it was better on offense. The guys they are going against are as good as anybody and they made some plays. They did a good job,” Wiginton said. “Brendan is a senior, a three-year start and he had the mentality that if we can just throw it around him and give him a chance, he was going to make a play.”
While the team lost, the players felt like the offense was definitely a bright spot.
“It was definitely the jumpstart we needed tonight,” senior offensive lineman Brandon North said. “Zach is getting more comfortable with the offense. Being just a sophomore, these games are good for him now and for the future.”
Midlothian is the first team to score 42 points against DeSoto this season so North can take a little solace in that.
“They were pretty stout. It’s always great to score 42 points and we fought hard out there,” North said. “You always try to pull the good things out of loses and scoring 42 is one of those things.”
The Panthers (3-4, 1-3 in 7-5A) now have their backs against the wall if they want to make the playoffs for the second year in a row. Midlothian must win its final three games and that road starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday against South Grand Prairie (2-5, 0-4 in 7-5A). Wiginton isn’t afraid of this challenge either.
“Got to win them all, but the kids love that,” Wiginton said. “You can strap them up against DeSoto, against the Texas Longhorns, against the Dallas Cowboys, it doesn’t matter. They are going to go out there and be prepared and give it their all.”