Friday night proved to the Midlothian Panthers that sometimes the wait is worth it, as the football program is headed to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
The win was the seventh of the season for head football coach Doug Wendel and the boys in blue to just two losses, which also matches the Panthers win total from that season six years ago. Midlothian ultimately fell to Hewitt Midway in the bi-district championship that year.
It is just the third time for Midlothian to qualify for the postseason since 2004. That season featured a Panthers team that also won seven games and lost in the bi-district championship to Brownwood, 34-33.
Meaning with a victory Thursday night at home against Waco University, the Panthers will have the winningest season in at least 14 years. However, according to Wendel, the Panthers have not won eight games in a season since 1991.
And they aren't done yet.
The Midlothian offense busted out of the gate to score four touchdowns in the first quarter last Friday against Cleburne and never looked back in the 57-34 victory.
Of course, it also helped that the Panthers defense limited the Yellowjackets to one score in the second half — which came late in the fourth quarter and well after the game was already in hand.
Midlothian ball carriers scored seven rushing touchdowns on the night and scampered for 360 yards on 51 attempts. They were led by Austen Thomas (8-101) and Isaac Houston (2-66) with two touchdowns, each. Nolan Samek (6-58), Laine Martin (8-25), and Tate Corbin (7-23) also found the end zone, while sophomore Ethan Hill rushed a team-high 18 times for 69 yards.
Quarterback Tate Corbin completed 3-of-his-4 passes for 103 yards and one interception.
JT Cavender continued to fly around the field on the defensive end, recording a team-high 17 total tackles (11 solos), one tackle-for-loss and one sack. Cavender now has 101 total tackles on the season for a 12.1 tackle-per-game average, easily the highest on the team.
Kaleb Tompkins added 14 total tackles, while Ethan Lemley had 11 and Avery Gibson finished with seven. All three added a tackle-for-a-loss and all four, with the inclusion of Cavender, are underclassmen.
Riley Angel intercepted two Cleburne passes and returned one for a touchdown. Isaac Brown and Avery Gibson also recorded one interception, each.
In his weekly newsletter, Wendel stated, "My favorite professional moment in Midlothian thus far was looking into the faces of our team after the game. The joy and sense of accomplishment in the smiles of our Panthers was something I won’t soon forget. These guys worked hard for and earned the right to go to the playoffs. I am so proud of our team."
Midlothian (7-2, 5-2 in District 5-5A) closes out the regular season at 7 p.m. Thursday at Midlothian ISD Multipurpose Stadium. The senior night festivities begin at 6:30 p.m.
With the win over Cleburne, the Panthers are locked into the third seed in the district standings and are likely to face (8-1) Red Oak in the 5A Division II Region I bi-district championship next week.
The Hawks will clinch the second seed in District 6-5A with a victory Friday night against Seagoville.