HEWITT — A victory over Waco Midway eluded Belton for the seventh straight season, and the Tigers’ setback against the Panthers on Friday night took with it aspirations of a shared district title, the league’s No. 1 big-school seed and a home playoff game.
Not exactly what Belton had in mind going into a regular-season finale it felt it was more than ready for.
Midway running back James Fullbright rumbled for 211 yards rushing, quarterback Nick Jimenez threw four first-half touchdowns and the Panthers defense forced four turnovers in a convincing 53-21 win at Panther Stadium.
“We had chances in the first half to be right in the ballgame but had too many turnovers,” said Belton coach Sam Skidmore, whose team trailed at halftime for the first time since the season opener and was shut out in the second half. “We just misfired on some things and have to clean some things up.”
Midway, which pocketed the outright District 12-6A championship by defeating Temple and Belton in consecutive weeks, has won 34 district games in a row and hasn’t lost to rival Belton since 2011.
With Temple’s loss to Copperas Cove on Friday, 12-6A’s playoff qualifiers are Midway, Temple, Belton and Cove, in that order. And with the Bulldawgs sneaking in on the final night, it bumped up Midway into Division I, where it will take the league’s top seed into a bi-district game next week versus 11-6A’s Mesquite. Belton is No. 2 into the DI Region II bracket and will travel to Rockwall for a 7:30 tilt next Friday.
“I’m super proud of our kids. They persevered. We just got better each and every week. We took that positive step forward. They weren’t always big steps forward ... but we just got better every week and they started believing in themselves, and we started rolling,” Midway coach Jeff Hulme said.
Fullbright’s big night was his second 200-plus yard effort versus the Tigers (7-3, 6-2) in as many seasons. Jimenez finished 20-of-30 for 256 yards, including TD passes of 16, 18, 48 and 11 yards — all in the opening 24 minutes. Will Nixon caught two of the scoring tosses among his seven receptions and game-high 113 yards receiving for Midway (8-1, 8-0).
“Mistakes. A lot of mistakes. Can’t do that in big ballgames,” Belton defensive end Devin Martinez said. “But we have next week. We are going to the playoffs. Some people aren’t.”
Belton receiver Anthony Brown had five receptions for 90 yards and a score, giving him the school’s single-season catch record at 66. Marques Aguilar had a pair of rushing touchdowns but lost a key fumble among the Tigers’ three first-half turnovers, which were converted into 11 Midway points.
Panthers cornerback Parker Nall had an interception in each half, and Midway limited Belton sophomore signal-caller Ruben Jimenez to 14-of-33 passing and 167 yards.
Midway scored on six of its eight first-half possessions.
Aguilar’s 9-yard TD scamper tied it at 7 with 2:15 left in the first quarter and his second from 13 out got the Tigers back within 10 (31-21) 3 minutes before halftime.
But after the Tigers defense got its first stop of the night, Aguilar fumbled Ruben Jimenez’s option pitch, and the Panthers recovered, leading to Caden Quinn’s one-handed 11-yard TD catch and Fullbright’s 2-point plunge for a 39-21 lead 25 seconds before the break.
Belton had three drives stall on Midway’s side of the 50 in the second half. Fullbright’s two 2-yard rushing scores in the fourth sealed the teams’ fate.
“I challenged the seniors. This is their group. It’s going to be them that rallies the troops,” Skidmore said. “Let tonight’s disappointment be tonight’s disappointment, because everything they want to do is still right in front of them.”
FRIDAY'S DISTRICT 12-6 SCORES
- Copperas Cove 22, Temple 18
- Killeen 55, Waco 17
- Shoemaker 35, Harker Heights 14
- Waco Midway 53, Belton 21