Midlothian uses big-play offense for big win at Cleburne

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Sep. 23—The Midlothian Panthers scored touchdowns on three consecutive offensive plays to build an early 21-0 lead and coasted to a 57-0 win over the Cleburne Yellow Jackets on Friday at Yellow Jacket Stadium.

Midlothian stayed undefeated at 5-0 overall and 3-0 in District 4-5A Division I play while Cleburne remained winless at 0-5 overall and 0-3 in league action.

The Panthers racked up 621 yards from scrimmage — including 455 rushing yards — while holding the Jackets to 195 yards from scrimmage.

"No. 1, that's a really, really dang good football team and we knew it coming into the game," Cleburne Coach Jim Woodard said of Midlothian. "I pride myself on being honest with our kids and we told our kids all week how good they were. We knew it was going to take a phenomenal effort on our part to have a chance in this one.

"I'm really proud of our kids with how they fought. They didn't back down from any of the challenges they were faced with this week."

After both teams punted on their opening possessions, Midlothian quarterback Chad Ragle threw a slant pass to his left that was a little high for his intended receiver, but the 6-foot-3 Bryant Wesco, a three-star Class of 2023 recruit, made a leaping snag and then outran the defense for a 35-yard score and a 7-0 lead with 8:03 left in the opening quarter.

Following a Cleburne three-and-out, Midlothian needed only one play when Ragle threw a quick screen to Wesco near the visitor sideline, and Wesco did the rest as he took it 57 yards untouched for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 6:18 left in the first quarter.

Cleburne then strung together an impressive 14-play drive as the Jackets got down inside the Panther 10-yard line, threatening to make it a one-score game. But a false start pushed the Jackets back before an incomplete pass on third down. Cleburne opted for a 32-yard field goal attempt, which was wide left by a couple feet.

In a game that ends with a 57-0 final score, there aren't one or two turning points in the grand scheme, but the Jackets coming away empty-handed there was a key moment early in the game as Cleburne had an opportunity to punch the Panthers back.

Instead, a 14-play drive came up empty and on the next play from scrimmage, Midlothian's Deago Benson took off through the middle of the Jacket defense for an 80-yard touchdown run and a 21-0 lead in the closing seconds of the first quarter.

Three touchdowns on three consecutive offensive snaps — two on one-play drives — for Midlothian, and the Panthers were off and running.

"We got a three-and-out on defense to start the game, but offensively we sputtered a little to start," Woodard said. "They score [twice] and we go on a big drive and shoot ourselves in the foot at the end trying to punch it in and then we miss a field goal. Those are the breaks of football. Any time you go on that long of a drive and don't score points, it hurts."

Midway through the second quarter, Ragle executed a perfect pump fake and hit a wide open Wesco, who made the defender bite on the double move, for a 50-yard touchdown pass and a 28-0 lead. It was Wesco's third reception for 142 yards and three touchdowns in less than one-and-a-half quarters.

After another Cleburne punt, Midlothian's big-play offense continued. On the second play of the drive, Jordon Richburg scored on a 62-yard run for a 35-0 halftime lead.

"They big-played us tonight," Woodard said. "It is what it is. No. 19 [Wesco] is a special kid on the outside and with 7 [Benson] and 1 [Richburg] and 10 [Michael Garber] in the backfield, it's a four-headed monster. When you think you have something figured out, 9 [Ragle] pulls the ball and runs the ball or 11 [Drew Wendel] comes in and throws pretty footballs. They're a really dang good football team."

Cleburne approached midfield with the opening possession of the second half but the Jackets fumbled on fourth-and-1. Two plays later, Richburg scored on a five-yard run for a 42-0 lead. Then on the ensuing kickoff, the Jackets muffed the kick but recovered the loose ball, only to be tackled in the end zone for a safety.

Five plays later, Wendel threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Wesco for his fourth receiving score of the night and Wendel added a 20-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to produce the final margin.

Woodard said he was proud of how his team continued fighting down to the last second. The Panthers appeared destined to surpass the 60-point mark when they had a first-and-goal at the 1 with under 3 minutes to play but Cleburne's defense forced and recovered a fumble in the end zone.

"It's 57-0 and our kids are still battling their tails off trying to keep them out of the end zone and doing everything they can," Woodard said. "The official looks at me with 37 seconds left on the clock and tells me we don't have to snap the football, and our kids are like 'let's go' and they're asking for the next play. We've told them from the very beginning that we're going to coach until it's 0:00 and they're going to play until it's 0:00, and they've bought into that.

"We're just trying to take those steps to get better. In several phases of the game, we got better. We ran the ball really well against a really dang good defense. We still had some miscues on special teams that we're still trying to clean up. But it's pointing out the good things that our kids are doing and build on the strides they're taking. It's trying to add those steps together and not just one step forward here and there with two steps back. It's about trying to put the whole deal together."

A week after an avalanche of special teams miscues cost Cleburne a chance at a win in a 29-26 loss at Granbury, the Jackets took major strides on special teams vs. Midlothian. The muffed kick return that resulted in a safety was the only blunder; Cleburne punted seven times for a 35 yard average and there were no issues with the deep snap.

It was Cleburne's most successful game running the ball this season as the Jackets amassed 142 rushing yards on 39 carries — with most of those yards coming on tosses to the perimeter. Wide receiver Dorian Potter led Cleburne in rushing with 50 yards on eight carries. Potter also had three receptions for 32 yards to go along with an interception on defense. Jaygen Wells added 42 rushing yards on 11 carries and Jayshaun Scales had 44 rushing yards on 12 carries.

Wesco, Benson and Richburg each gained more than 100 yards from scrimmage for the Panthers. Wesco had five receptions for 156 yards and four touchdowns. Benson totaled 108 rushing yards and a touchdown on just fiev carries. And Richburg had 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.

After Cleburne recorded eight first downs in the first half, the Jackets were held to only two first downs in the second half. Midlothian, which had nine first downs in the first half, finished with 21 for the game.

The Panthers weren't penalized throughout the first three quarters but were called for a chop block and a taunting call (that erased a TD) in the fourth quarter. Cleburne had five penalties for 25 yards in the first half but none in the second half.

The Jackets will try for their first win in week 6 action at Lake Belton (4-1, 2-1).