By Joseph Garcia
BASTROP – After shaky first possessions for both teams started the game and the playoff jitters were settled, the Liberty Hill Panthers emerged as the top cats on the turf of Bastrop Memorial Stadium Friday night.
Liberty Hill dominated time of possession in the second half, holding Navarro to one score in a 35-14 well-rounded win for the Panthers.
The Panthers of Liberty Hill drew first blood after the defense forced a three-and-out with assistance from a Brice Bishop sack for a 10-yard loss. Liberty Hill’s offense regrouped after punting on its initial possession.
Starting from its own 29, Liberty Hill only needed three plays to score as senior tailback Jonathan Johnston took the handoff 55 yards on a second-and-12, all the way to the end zone giving the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 3:53 remaining in the first quarter.
Liberty Hill’s “Purple Thunder” defense made more noise on Navarro’s ensuing possessions with a bend-don’t-break style that led to back to back turnovers on downs.
Special teams also played a key role in the first half for Liberty Hill as punter Jacob Simons nailed a punt that rolled out of bounds at the Navarro five-yard line. And after the Liberty Hill defense forced another punt, the offense took over from its own 31.
After converting two first downs, senior Bo Simpson’s number was called and aftee looking like the Navarro defense had him wrapped up, he broke loose for what amounted to a 54-yard touchdown. Just like that the Panthers of Liberty Hill were up 14-0 with only 2:17 left in the first half.
However, Liberty Hill could not rest as Navarro stormed back on a 61-yard touchdown drive.
After converting a fourth-and-two from the Liberty Hill 12, Navarro had the ball facing a second-and-goal from the two with three seconds remaining on the clock. From there running back Eric Schleier took the handoff around the left side of the line and trotted in for six. Navarro missed the point after touchdown, ending the first half with Liberty Hill on top 14-6.
Having kicked off in the first half, Liberty Hill received the ball first to begin the second. And on the second play from scrimmage, Johnston received the toss left from quarterback Kyle Hester, made one cut and was gone for a 60-yard rumble.
With a 21-6 lead, the Panthers were looking to put Navarro out of reach. And they did just that scoring another touchdown on the ground with Johnston and another in the air on a screen pass from Hester to Cody Johnston.
The bi-district playoff game ended with Liberty Hill topping Navarro 35-14 in a decisive victory.