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Panthers fly past Birdville in homecoming

Bill Spinks
Midlothian Mirror

The Midlothian Panthers showed no signs of rustiness whatsoever following an almost three-week layoff.

The Panthers rushed for 479 yards, got three interceptions and a blocked field goal by Riley Angel, and claimed a 49-14 homecoming victory over Birdville on Thursday night in the District 4-5A (I) opener for both teams.

The Panthers (3-0, 1-0) have scored 49 points in each of their three wins so far this year.

“I think we’re a much-improved team from where we were three weeks ago,” head coach Dough Wendel said. “Our focus was really good. We cleaned up a lot of penalties and our focus and effort were our themes for the week.”

Angel’s three interceptions all came in the second quarter. All of them came in Midlothian territory, and one of them led to a touchdown.

Twelve different ballcarriers touched the pigskin for MHS, led by sophomore De’ago Benson, who finished with 162 yards and a touchdown on only four carries. Ethan Hill, Nick de los Santos and Dillon Lampkins also rushed for scores in the first half, and de los Santos also passed to David Smith for a score as the Panthers went into halftime with a commanding 35-0 lead. Homecoming king Branton Huffman and Vincent Rabozzi also rushed for fourth-quarter TDs.

Birdville (1-1, 0-1) averted a shutout with two touchdowns in the final 2:33 of the game. Sophomore Gracien Anto carried 21 times for 206 yards to lead the Hawks.

The Panthers hadn’t played since Oct. 2 because of a COVID-related cancellation and an open date, but the first two series of the game dispelled any idea that MHS would come out sluggish.

“The kids were ready to play,” Wendel said. “We were sharp, both offensively and defensively. We’re healthy, we looked faster out there tonight. It was nice to be out there and have the opportunity to play. The kids deserve it.”

MHS opened the game with a quick scoring drive set up by a 50-yard Benson run and capped by a de los Santos keeper, then set the tone for the rest of the night with a goal-line stand at the 1-yard line.

Facing first-and-goal after Birdville’s Anto broke a 76-yard run, MHS’ defense — with plays made by Bryce Starlin, Marcus McLemore and Kaleb Tompkins — stopped four straight runs and took over on downs at the 2.

“The goal-line stand set the tone for the entire game,” Wendel said. “I thought our defense did a phenomenal job. There were four total turnovers by the defense in the first half. We gave up a few yards, but our defense really played strong. The goal-line stand was outstanding.”

Angel’s third interception of the game in the end zone ended the first half with the Panthers on top by five touchdowns.

The Panthers will travel to Colleyville Heritage on Friday night as district play continues.