Panthers grind out more history with area-round ‘W’
After fast start, MHS defense preserves team’s first third-round advance since 1988
ABILENE — In spite of a huge game-saving stop, the outcome still hung in the balance as the Midlothian Panthers took over possession with Bradyn Smith’s fumble recovery on their own 14-yard line with 4:18 remaining and holding a 4-point lead.
But the Panthers closed out the game by doing what they do best: running the football and chewing up clock.
Junior running back De’ago Benson carried five straight times, including a fourth-and-1 run for a first down on an extremely gutsy call with 2:47 left. Teammate Kaden Smith’s 14-yard run for a first down iced the outcome and allowed the Panthers to hold on to a 21-17 victory over Lubbock Coronado in the area round of the Class 5A Division I playoffs at Hugh Sandifer Stadium.
The Panthers (8-4) are three rounds deep for the first time since 1988 and only the second time in school history, and earned a rematch against District 4-5A (I) rival Mansfield Summit in the Region I semifinals. The game will be played Friday night beginning at 7 p.m. at the Gopher-Warrior Bowl in Grand Prairie.
Benson finished with 95 yards on 17 carries, and Michael Garber added 84 yards and two early touchdowns for the Panthers, who totaled 301 yards on the ground. Quarterback Chad Ragle added a rushing score and completed two passes to Xavionte Jackson for 47 yards.
On defense, the Panthers shined, getting five takeaways, including two interceptions by Jackson and two total scoops by Bradyn Smith.
All of MHS’ scoring was done in the first half as the Panthers raced out to a 21-0 lead before the Mustangs rallied back to within a touchdown at halftime.
Jackson intercepted a Coronado pass on the third play from scrimmage, setting MHS up on its first drive at the Mustangs’ 5. Garber scored on a four-yard run two plays later for a quick 7-0 lead.
Bradyn Smith recovered a Coronado fumble on the next series. Three plays later, Garber scored on a 45-yard run to make it 14-0 Midlothian with 8:03 remaining in the first quarter.
The Panthers next put up a goal-line stand facing a Coronado first-and-goal on the 1. The defense sniffed out a pass play in the backfield for a loss of five on first down, and Coronado turned the ball over on downs at the 4.
Kaden Smith’s 51-yard pickup across midfield highlighted a trademark Panthers drive covering 96 yards on 14 plays, all but one play on runs. Ragle snuck it in from the 1 with 8:30 remaining in the first half and it was looking all Panthers.
To the Mustangs’ credit, however, they bounced back with touchdowns on consecutive drives. Running back Antonio Malone, who finished the night with 187 yards, put his team on the board midway through the second quarter, and Jett Carroll completed a 62-ard pass play to Trevor Stephens with 1:30 remaining before half to cut it to 21-14.
The second half was a defensive battle, with Panther defenders stepping to the fore. Jackson notched his second pick of the night, and the Mustangs managed only a field goal with 8:55 left in the game.
The Panthers will get another shot against Mansfield Summit (9-3), which defeated the Panthers, 42-21, on Oct. 29.
The Jaguars last year advanced to the 5A Division I state semifinals, after qualifying for the playoffs over MHS because of a district executive committee ruling that playoff teams would be decided on win percentage. Summit’s games against Colleyville Heritage and Burleson Centennial were canceled because of COVID-19 and were declared no-contests, while the Panthers played and lost both of those matchups.
Next week’s region final could be an all-4-5A affair as well. Colleyville (11-1) travels to Wichita Falls on Saturday to take on Amarillo Tascosa.