By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
Tonight's 16-4A district-opener between Killeen (3-2) and Midway (2-3) at Leo Buckley Stadium has been six weeks and five games in the making. Killeen finished its pre-district season almost two weeks ago with a 24-14 win over Boerne.
The Panthers, after starting 2-0, have lost their last three, including a 45-7 loss on Sept 29 to 3A powerhouse Giddings. And, after tonight's game against Killeen, Midway hosts Waco next week and travels to Copperas Cove the week after.
"We've had a rough couple of weeks," Midway head coach Ken Bachtel said. "This is a very important game, especially with Waco and Cove dropping down into the district. That week off really helped."
Bachtel said his team worked on fundamentals in its open week in preparation of starting the district season against Killeen, which is a team similar to his Panthers. Kangaroo head coach Sam Jones sees the same.
"On paper we're pretty even. We both have a big offensive line. They spread you out, we spread you out. Whoever plays four quarters and has the least amount of turnovers wins the game,"Jones said.
The Kangaroos have coughed up the ball 12 times while the Panthers have only turned the ball over eight times.
Through five games, Midway is averaging 325.6 yards of offense to the Kangaroos' 271.6 per game.
The Panthers' spread offense is led by quarterback Jared Ray and running back Justin Cavasos. Ray has thrown for 745 yards with seven touchdowns and only two interceptions; Cavasos adds 583 yards and four touchdowns from the backfield.
"We've seen Ellison and Heights, those teams that spread you out," Killeen head coach Sam Jones said. "The whole key to our season is for us to keep improving. We're ready, we just need to be better than we have been."
Against Boerne, the Kangaroos racked up nearly 400 yards of offense. Junior quarterback Alijawon White completed five of 13 passes for 162 yards with a single interception and a 97-yard touchdown connection with Anthony Ezelle. Kangaroo running back Nicolas Norman added 123 yards on the ground, including a 45-yard touchdown run, his longest run of the year.
Both teams are coming off open weeks of healing injuries and readying legs for the district season. With both Killeen and Midway being run-oriented teams, defenses will be on the field longer, keeping the opposing offenses and major scoring threats on the sideline.
"We are very similar teams," Bachtel said, "We've got to hold our end up. Defensively, we've got to quit giving up the big plays. Team effort is what we really need right now. We've got to start flying to the ball and making the tackles.
"Our quarterback has been very consistent. We need to step up and help him a little. We've done a better job running the ball this year. We've got to figure out a way to block their front four."
In the final minutes of a hypothetically close game, both coaches see the matchup between Midway's kicker Justin Shaughnesy and Killeen's Matt Funk to be crucial. Funk is 4-for-4 with the three-ball this year with a long of 39 against Pflugerville Connally and was good from 21 yards out to beat Shoemaker with no time remaining on the clock. Bachtel has seen the same reliability in Shaughnesy.
"He's an outstanding kicker. In a close game, I feel really confident going to him," Bachtel said.
Kickoff for tonight's game at Leo Buckley is slated for 7:30.
Contact Kevin Posival at email@example.com