With an opportunity at its first district title in eight years, Harker Heights couldn’t handle the moment and Waco Midway was more than happy to snatch it away.
Falling back into the turnover quandary that plagued them early in the season, the Knights gave it away five times, leading to four scores, and the No. 12 Panthers secured the outright District 8-5A championship with a convincing 42-14 win Thursday at Leo Buckley Stadium.
“To be able to come into their backyard and do what we did tonight was huge — it was special,” Midway coach Terry Gambill said of the Panthers’ first district title in 5A and third consecutive after splitting the 8-4A crown last year.
Heights’ mistakes started early as three first-half fumbles gave undefeated Midway (9-0, 6-0 8-5A) short field on which to work, and work it did, capitalizing on all three for touchdowns for a 21-14 lead at halftime.
“We gave them a short field and you just can’t do that against that team,” said Knights coach Mike Mullins. “We were battling toe-to-toe and running hard and making plays, but you can’t do that against them and give them the ball in that situation.”
Added Gambill: “It’s huge because in the game of football, it’s hard to drive the length of the field.”
The loss, which snaps a three-game win streak, means the Knights (4-5, 4-2) must win next Friday at Copperas Cove to secure a playoff spot without any assistance or depending on tie-breakers.
“We’ve still got the chance to control everything that we’re doing and we’ll get ready,” Mullins said. “We’ve got an extra day to rest here and we’ll see what happens.”
A week after holding an equally high-powered offense in relative check against Temple, the Knights defense couldn’t repeat the feat as Midway racked up 458 yards of total offense, including 258 on the ground.
Panthers senior tailback B.J. Kelly had 125 yards on 17 carries, and a 10-yard touchdown run that sparked the offensive juggernaut. Kelly’s backup, DeChaar Greer, finished with just 57 yards but punched it in twice, including from 23 yards out to put Midway ahead 21-7 with seven minutes left in the second quarter.
Marcus Anderson II had his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game, finishing with 118 yards on 20 carries, but only had three carries over 5 yards after a 43-yard gain on his seventh attempt that set up the first of two touchdowns by quarterback Troy Smith late in the first quarter.
“He got pretty tired and we had to make some adjustments because we’re so short depth-wise at some spots,” Mullins said of Anderson.
The first fumble was on the Knights’ opening possession as Smith dropped the ball on a scramble at his own 28-yard line 2 ½ minutes into the game. Four plays later, Kelly sprinted to the left for a 10-yard touchdown for the early 7-0 lead with 8:12 left in the first quarter.
Smith redeemed himself two drives later after trading punts with a 6-yard touchdown run to the right to tie it at 7-7 with 22 seconds left in the frame.
Heights looked to finally get one to go its way when Damaria Moon intercepted Kramer Robertson at the Knights 33. But Anderson II never could reel in the handoff from Smith and fumbled in on the ensuing play and Midway linebacker Lenoy Jones recovered it at the Heights 40 with 8:32 left in the second quarter.
Again, the Panthers struck gold in four plays on a 23-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Kramer Robertson (15-of-24, 176 yards, 2 INTs) to Deondrae Degrate— the first of two for the pair — at 7:08.
Heights linebacker Naashon Hughes couldn’t handle the following kickoff at the 23 and Panthers freshman A.J. Head jumped on it. One play later, Greer was celebrating in the end zone after a 23-yard touchdown run for Midway’s second score in 13 seconds.
Heights final score came after a turnover went its way when 300-pound senior nose guard Nate Leota stepped in front of a Robertson pass at the Knights 40 and returned it 59 yards to the Midway 1-yard line. Three plays later, Smith snuck it in on an option keeper with 1:03 left.
“When I got to the 20, I started slowing down. I was getting tired,” Leota said of his interception return.
But Heights only passed midfield once in the second half, and that drive ended in a fourth fumble as Midway’s Chavoun Childers ripped the ball from Terance Goodwin at the Panthers’ 16 yard line.