WACO — Rodney Southern did not tell his team Friday morning.
The Belton football coach didn’t have to. Most of the Tigers knew they were eliminated from playoff contention when Temple defeated Killeen 63-56 Thursday.
Meanwhile, Terry Gambill wanted to put his Midway Panthers in a position to win and finish the season undefeated. That is why they took advantage of the windy conditions and kicked off to Belton in both halves Friday.
The tactic worked.
Midway forced five turnovers and defeated the Tigers 34-16 at Panther Stadium to secure a 10-0 season and an undefeated District 8-5A run.
“The wind played a huge factor and we wanted to give our kids a chance in the fourth quarter if it came down to it,” Gambill said. “Five turnovers were crucial. So was the goal-line stand and the 75-yard punt … that turned the field position and we would not have had it without the wind.”
With Belton (6-4, 3-4) already out of the playoffs and Midway just waiting to see who it would play in the bi-district round, neither team had much to play for.
“It was tough having Killeen and Temple play on Thursday,” Southern said. “It took the wind out of our sails a little bit. But, I wanted them to come out and compete, and they did that.”
Both teams played with passion — too much of it at times.
In the final minutes of the first half, there were a combined six unsportsmanlike or personal foul penalties and the two teams had a combined 189 yards in penalties by halftime.
“It was just the intensity of the game. I think some of that was the officials. It was just a lot of pushing and stuff,” Southern said. “We are always going to have a tough battle against these guys. They play us tough and we play them tough.”
Playing with the wind at their backs, Midway scored the first 24 points and looked like it was on its way to blowing out Belton.
The Panthers scored on their opening drive after quarterback Kramer Robertson, who finished 16 of 30 passing for 212 yards, hooked up with DeChaar Greer three times for 23 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass.
After a 59-yard interception by Keith Efferson, Midway pushed its lead to 14-0 on a 12-yard run by Robertson. Midway scored for the third time after Belton botched a snap on a punt and turned the ball over on downs at its own 5-yard line. BJ Kelly, who carried the ball 22 times for 168 yards, trotted into the end zone from there.
“We were just executing,” Gambill said. “Throwing, catching, blocking. It was just what you need from your offensive unit.”
But Belton did not go away.
After a 71-yard kickoff return by Brandon Rhoads, senior quarterback Peter Shelburne, who threw for 185 yards but had four interceptions, hit Chase Thornal in the middle of the end zone to cut the Panthers lead to 24-8.
On the next Tiger possession, Rhoads broke of a 30-yard run and Shelburne hit Derick Bates over the middle for a 4-yard touchdown pass that cut the Midway lead to 24-16 with 2:36 left in the half.
“I think we played much better defense the second quarter,” Southern said. “And I think we are going to see that we played it pretty good all night.”
But Belton was shut down in the second half, getting stopped on a fourth-and-goal and turning the ball over three times.
Midway, which got a field goal with 1:50 left in the third quarter to go up 27-16, scored its final touchdown to put the game away with five minutes left in the fourth quarter when Kelly scored from 7 yards out.