It took reaching a little deeper into the playbook than normal, but the Midlothian Panthers are returning to the playoffs.
The unlikely passing and receiving combination of Nathan Humphreys and Riley Angel connected on a 61-yard touchdown with 6:17 remaining, and the Panthers made two defensive stops in the final minutes to pull out a 19-14 Senior Night victory against Cleburne on Friday night at MISD Multipurpose Stadium.
The Panthers (7-2, 5-2) secured the No. 3 seed out of District 5-5A (II) and will travel to the 6-5A (II) runner-up for the bi-district round next week. That slot is still up for grabs among Dallas South Oak Cliff, Red Oak and Seagoville. If Red Oak beats Seagoville on Friday night, the No. 2 team would be South Oak Cliff.
It was a defensive battle throughout, as Midlothian finished with 301 total yards and Cleburne with 254. An opportunistic MHS defense forced four total turnovers, including two interceptions and to fumble recoveries.
Quarterback Nicholas de los Santos was MHS’ leading rusher with 19 carries for 60 yards.
Cleburne went on top first as Cleo Chandler scored on a 8-yard run, but Midlothian equalized on its ensuing possession as Ethan Hill took it over the goal line with seconds remaining in the opening frame.
The Panthers took a 10-7 edge at the half on Shane Reasonover’s 32-yard field goal, but Cleburne regained the lead on an 80-yard, seven-play drive capped by Gunner Hammond’s 4-yard pass to Isaak Cunningham.
Near the end of the third quarter, Hammond fumbled as he was being sacked and the Panthers recovered at the Cleburne 17-yard line. MHS settled for Reasonover’s 30-yard kick to bring the Panthers within 14-13.
Then early in the fourth, Midlothian forced a punt and embarked on a 70-yard drive, 61 of which came on a flea-flicker to Humphreys, who found Angel open for the go-ahead touchdown. The Panthers’ try for two was no good, keeping it a 19-14 MHS lead.
Midlothian forced a Jacket punt and tried to run out the clock with six straight runs. But Cleburne still had two timeouts left and got the ball back at its own 13.
The Panther defense held one final time as a pair of third-down passes fell incomplete with 29 ticks remaining, sealing the victory for MHS.
The Panthers will wrap up the regular season with a trip down Interstate 35 to take on Waco University at Waco ISD Stadium on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. University is 4-5 overall and 2-5 in district play.
Cleburne (5-4, 3-4) is now in a three-way tie for fourth place with Burleson and Everman, and the Yellow Jackets host Burleson on Friday with a chance to clinch the No. 4 seed with a win.