Ellison’s strategy was simple enough — run the ball and play keep-away.
Isiah Cowan’s plan of attack was even simpler.
“Keep fighting. Plain and simple, keep fighting,” Cowan said. “Keep fighting with your teammates, keep fighting with your defense, the offensive line, everybody, and you’ll get a win. You’ve just got to keep fighting and have that heart.”
Cowan’s heart was there Thursday as the Eagles senior running back rushed a career-high 37 times for 208 yards. But, despite Ellison rushing 67 times for nearly 300 yards, No. 11 Midway needed just 15 minutes to roll up 423 yards of total offense and send the Eagles to a 46-6 loss in the District 8-5A opener at Leo Buckley Stadium.
“Against a program as good as Midway, if you don’t convert every time, you’re going to be in trouble,” Ellison coach Buddy McBryde said. “And we made some mistakes and couldn’t convert.”
The Panthers’ defense even got in on the scoring act. After forcing Ellison’s fourth punt of the night on its first offensive possession of the second half, Midway (4-0, 1-0 8-5A) senior lineman Harrison Minor broke free and got a hand on the ball coming off punter Roland Brown’s foot. The ball sailed backwards 20 yards and landed in the end zone, where linebacker Chrishard Buhl landed on for the score and a 32-0 advantage midway through the third quarter.
“It was a biggie. It was a swing point in the game,” McBryde said. “Don’t know what happened on it. It looked like a combination of a low, rolling snap, slow getting the punt off and poor blocking.”
Despite the growing deficit, and only crossing Midway’s 35-yard line once, the Eagles (0-4, 0-1) never got away from their game plan as Cowan continued to run the ball until he could barely walk off the field. The work paid off as he finally found his way into the end zone and capped a 13-play drive with a 4-yard touchdown with 5:09 to play.
“I wanted to stay out there with my teammates and finish it off,” Cowan said. “We’re a unit. We said at the beginning of the season that we’re going to finish it off this year.”
Ellison had things going early when linebacker Corey Brown recovered a fumble by Midway’s Stephon Free on the Panthers’ first play from scrimmage. But after junior quarterback Trenton Jones couldn’t convert a fourth-and-4 play on the Eagles’ second possession, the Panthers wasted little time finding the end zone.
Free (129 rushing yards) made up for his earlier miscue with a 4-yard touchdown run four plays later to pull ahead 6-0 with 6:42 remaining in the first quarter.
But that was all they’d get as a pass from holder Zach Moore on a bootleg two-point try was intercepted by Ellison’s Reginald Ford at the 5-yard line and returned 93 yards behind a crowd of Eagle blockers before being pulled down from behind at the Midway 2-yard line.
“I think that he ran out of juice there at the end,” McBryde said of Ford’s interception return. “The effort and everything was great on his part trying to get it in.”
The Panthers added another score on the first of two 1-yard touchdown runs by Xavier Hailey with 4½ minutes left before halftime and then, after a third straight Ellison punt, went ahead 19-0 at halftime when senior quarterback Kramer Robertson dove into the endzone on a 13-yard keeper with 31 seconds remaining.
“First half we came out and hit them right in the mouth,” Cowan said. “When you hold a team like that to 19 points and make them earn it, it makes you feel good inside.”
The third quarter, though, was all Midway’s, despite the Panthers only maintaining possession of the ball for 2:41 minutes of it, scoring 20 points in that amount of time to pull away 39-0 by the start of the fourth.