Prior to helping guide the Allen football team to its latest state championship, Terry Gambill took his first head-coaching job roughly two hours south in Waco at Midway.
On Saturday, at 2 p.m. from Waco’s McLane Stadium, past and present will collide when the Eagles and Panthers square off in the Class 6A Division I regional finals.
“The preparation doesn’t change. It’s two high school football teams – Allen versus Midway – and that’s all it is,” Gambill said. “I’m now at Allen and my time down at Midway was very good. The community, the kids and the school district all helped me become a better person and a better coach. I’m very thankful for that.”
The Panthers experienced no shortage of success in Gambill’s six seasons at the helm, compiling a 68-13 record that included a state championship game berth in 2011. Between the on-field results, bonds builts and lessons learned in developing and running a program, Gambill looks back fondly on his time in Waco.
“It allowed me to grow in this profession and deal with the everyday issues that a head coach deals with,” he said. “I have great memories of all of those kids that played for us. You’re in this profession because it’s about relationships, and just like anywhere else I’ve coached, I had really great relationships with those kids and families.”
Midway has maintained its consistency since Gambill returned to Allen, notably advancing to the Class 6A Division II championship game last year. This season, the Panthers sport an 11-1 record that included playoff victories over Mesquite (48-13), Sachse (56-28) and Klein Oak (28-27).
The lattermost saw Midway rally from a 24-0 halftime deficit to win by one, thanks to a two rushing touchdowns by James Fullbright and some timely defensive stops fueled by Parker Nall.
Fullbright is front and center of the Eagles’ preparations for Saturday’s showdown, tying a Midway school record with 63 career touchdowns last weekend, as well as an offensive front that bears a familiar resemblance.
“Their offensive line is a lot like The Woodlands. They’re big and well-coached,” Gambill said. “… [Fullbright is] really strong, quick and can cut. He’s going to be one of the best running backs we’ve seen. He’s really strong and hard to tackle.”
Defensively, Gambill noted parallels between Midway’s front seven and the Highlanders’, lauding the unit’s tackling and pursuit.
Like last weekend, it’ll be another 3-4 defense dealt the Eagles’ way. Allen will hope for better returns after being held to season-low totals in yards (319) and points (31). Defensively, Gambill stressed the need to eliminate big plays, of which the Eagles surrendered three of at least 38 yards.
“We knew [The Woodlands] would be very well-coached going in,” Gambill said. “We knew we would have to play very sound defense and there were times when we had breakdowns in gap responsibility, but for the most part we played extremely well.”
Allen countered with some timely gains by junior Celdon Manning – a 64-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter – and senior Theo Wease – six catches for 113 yards, including three for at least 20 – as well as an interception by senior KJ Willie and a blocked punt by senior Keith Johnson that contributed to scores.
The Eagles also continue to monitor the progress of senior defensive lineman Jayden Jernigan, who Gambill said remains “day-to-day” with triceps and knee injuries.