Last night was the last night of the regular season in Texas. While both Midlothian and Cedar Hill knew they had wrapped up playoffs spots in the 64 team 5A division 2 bracket, the top seed from the 7-5A was up for grabs. (For all you out of Texas readers lost in this lingo, I’ll explain the playoff process in detail in a post later this week.) For now, just know seeding can be a huge factor in making it though the 6 game tournament and the winner last night would have an advantage when the playoffs begin next week. Also on the line was bragging rights, the communities of Cedar Hill and Midlothian are neighbors and have a long history on the field. Several of the Cedar Hill coaches make their home in Midlothian and in a game where rivals meet only once a year, this kind of thing means a lot.
In any close game there are a hundred little things one can point at making the difference between winning and losing. On the winning side, this means that everyone on the field and all the coaches that made decisions own part of the victory. On the losing end, every contributor was one play away from changing the outcome. Friday night at Midlothian the margin between winning and losing was razor thin. Maybe it’s just 20/20 hindsight, but more often in not, these hard fought games seem to go to the team with the intangible belief that they will find a way to win. It’s not provable, but despite never holding a lead for the first 47 minutes of the game, the Longhorns seemed like a team who expected to win and in the end found a way.
Midlothian has often been the underdog in this series, but last night the Panthers started strong. Cedar Hill opened with a strong drive, reaching the Midlo 20 yard line before a interception and return to the opposite 40 gave the Panthers the early momentum. Four plays later, Midlothian scored to take an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The home team was threatening to add to their lead later in the 1st when the Panther quarterback lost the ball during a sack, Longhorn tackle Calan Johnson scooped up the loose ball and ran 90 yards for the first Cedar Hill score. A missed PAT left the score 7-6. Throughout the game, the Panther offense did a very good job grinding down the field, the Panther QB did a outstanding job running his read option, pulling the ball out and making some big runs. The Panthers scored again early in the 2nd quarter to take a 13-6 lead. In the final minutes the half, Cedar Hill put together a good drive, scoring to tie the game at 13 on a one yard QB dive with less than a minute to go in the half.
As they have all year, Midlothian opened up the second half with a explosive drive scoring in just 4 plays, to take a 20-13 lead early in the 3rd. the Longhorn defense settled down and pinned the Panthers deep, several poor punts into the wind gave the Horns great field position and Cedar Hill again tied the game on a 4 yard touchdown pass from Damian Hobbs to Jared Rayford.
On the following possession, Midlothian took control of the game, converting on 3rd down twice, 4th down once and running seven and a half minutes off the clock to score a touchdown and take a 6 point lead, but missing the extra point.
That missed turned out to be the difference, as the Horns moved the ball down the field, opening up big holes for running back Larry Hill and Damian Hobbs. With just 37 seconds remaining and a running clock, Texas A&M commit Laquvionte Gonzalez, got around the right edge on a fly sweep and hit the pylon, tying the game, this PAT was good and, for the first time Cedar Hill had the lead, 27-26. Midlothian fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the ‘Horns celebrated.
The win gives Cedar Hill a 1st round matchup with Copperas Cove next Saturday in Waco and momentum going into the playoffs. I want to thank Coach McGuire, his staff and the rest of the Longhorns for a great final week of the regular season. This is a very fun group and I’m looking forward to following then to Waco next week.
31 motels and 11,200 miles down and this wraps up one part of my project. It’s sometimes been a grind, but it’s been an amazing experience as well. When I was coaching I often wondered what was going on in the other coaches’ offices. How do other teams prepare? How do other coaches deal with problems similar to the ones I had? What is the atmosphere like on gameday for other staffs? This past 11 weeks have given me insight most coaches never have the opportunity to get.
Whether I chose wisely or was just lucky, I’m not sure. But I’m convinced these programs are all great examples of high school football at its best. They each brought something different to the table, they don’t have a lot in common when it comes to demographic, coaching style and region of the state. But all of them provide programs that teach great football and life lessons that will stay with their boys the rest of their lives.
Though the regular season has ended, my project and this blog have not. Ten of my 11 teams are in the playoffs and I will follow as many as I can each week through the state championship games six weeks from now. Regardless who eventually is playing in the end, I’ve committed to seeing this through and I will be in Cowboy Stadium in December before making the drive home. The brackets are still being put together, check back later in the week to see which playoff games I’ll be covering this weekend.