COPPERAS COVE — Waco Midway would not be denied in the second half. 

After holding the Panthers to just 141 yards and 16 points in through the first two quarters, Copperas Cove had no answer for its rivals after halftime, and it showed on the scoreboard.

Midway posted 385 yards in the second half and scored on six of its eight possessions, including a pair of momentum-killing one-play touchdown drives, en route to a 54-35 victory.

Following the loss, Copperas Cove head coach Jack Welch admitted his team was simply outmatched for the final 24 minutes.

“In the second half,” he said, “they put their big bodies on our big bodies, and to be quite frank, we didn’t match up with them. They got some yards on us, and we shouldn’t have given up that much.

“Actually, they did a good job of taking it. It wasn’t that we gave it up; they took it.”

The Panthers posted 17 unanswered points to open the second half, creating a comfortable 33-14 cushion and never eased up, responding to every Bulldawgs’ score with a touchdown drive of their own for the remainder of the contest.

But it was not just the fact Midway scored; it was how the Panthers scored.

Midway needed just four plays to reach the end zone after receiving the second half kickoff, opening a 23-14 lead. Then, the Panthers extended their lead to 33-14 by sandwiching a touchdown and field goal around a three-and-out by Copperas Cove.

The worst was yet to come, though.

After Antonio Lealiiee scored a 63-yard touchdown on a fake punt to generate some much-needed momentum, the Panthers scored one play later as running back Korey Chatmanbroke free for a 79-yard touchdown.

Then, Bulldawgs’ quarterback Caine Garner found Ra’shaun Henry for a 64-yard pass to Midway’s 1-yard line, setting up another touchdown run for Lealiiee. Once again, however, Chatman, who finished with 212 rushing yards, needed just one play to reach the end zone, scoring on a 64-yard outburst to open a 47-28 lead with 9 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the game.

“Those plays killed us,” Welch said. “We can’t have that. We have to be sure we go back out on the field and stuff them. There is no excuse for one-play drives like that. We can’t miss an alignment or miss a tackle. We have to be good enough to get those things done.”

Despite a better showing early, the first half was marred by miscues as well.

Copperas Cove (2-6, 2-2 District 12-6A) opened the game with a 71-yard scoring drive capped off by a 20-yard touchdown pass from Garner to Henry, but the lead did not last long.

The Panthers needed just 3:07 to respond, covering 75 yards in 10 plays with Eric Clayburn punctuating the drive on an 11-yard run into the end zone.

On the ensuing drive, the Bulldawgs had their first of two unsuccessful field goal attempts in the half, but their defense forced a punt, setting up a scoring drive spanning into the second quarter before Garner punched in a 1-yard touchdown. In addition to running for 44 yards, Garner also completed 10 of 18 passes for 178 yards.

Then, Midway (4-3, 3-0) scored nine unanswered points as Jackson Smith connected on a 37-yard field goal and Artez Rhymer gave the Panthers their first lead with a 94-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was one of two interceptions for the Midway defense, but the extra point was no good, and the Panthers took a 16-14 lead into halftime.

While the outcome was disappointing, Lealiiee felt the Bulldawgs did some good things in the defeat.

“The offense took a big step tonight,” said the senior, who finished with a game-high 221 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries. “The offensive linemen were staying on their blocks in the first half, but we needed to keep executing in the second half, and the defense needed to get stops.”

Henry, who caught three passes for 88 yards, agreed.

“We just needed to come harder on defense in the second half and keep scoring on offense,” he said. “It goes both ways.”

Contact Clay Whittington at clayw@kdhnews.com

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