By Joseph Garcia
CEDAR CREEK – To the observant eye it is seemingly not hard to tell that the scrimmages leading up to the Panthers’ season opener are for training only. Sure they are highly spirited and competitive, but they are more useful for coaches to help solidify personnel decisions and also give the players one last chance to see live action before the real games begin.
That’s what took place August 23 at Bastrop Memorial Stadium where the freshmen, JV and varsity teams took on their Sealy High School’s three respective squads (freshmen, junior varsity and varsity).
Scrimmaging against an athletic team like Sealy was very encouraging for the Liberty Hill coaching staff.
“I think (the scrimmage) kind of reaffirmed everything that we knew,” said Liberty Hill Coach Jerry Vance. “The first team really solidified where they were supposed to be. There were a lot of good things that came out of that scrimmage. I thought that being able to play with the caliber of athletes that Sealy has, we were excited about that. We thought we were as physical as Sealy was and that hasn’t happened in the last two or three years. We think we’ve made some steps forward.”
Stepping forward first last Thursday were the freshmen and JV teams, which scrimmaged at the same time on separate halves of the field. With the ball placed at the 40-yard line, each team took 10 snaps on offense before changing to defense.
With Coach Vance and Sealy Head Coach Jimmy Mitchell observing from mid-field, the freshmen – wearing white practice jerseys – seemed to be clicking on offense, scoring at least four times.
While the whistle was often blown early to protect players in the controlled practice, the contact was real. Just ask freshman running back Bass Hamilton who was sidelined twice for a bloody nose.
The junior varsity was seemingly less polished on offense as they struggled to put the ball in the end zone more than a couple of times against a stout Tiger defense. The JV defense looked much better, forcing turnovers and laying hard hits.
Coach Vance said he was excited to watch the sub-varsity teams get after it and play well. He predicts good things for the freshman and JV squads.
“We are excited about them, they’ve done a good job and will be successful,” Vance said. “I think both teams are going to be successful and what’s exciting about that is those are the kids that are going to be playing (on varsity) next year and the year after.”
Around 6:30 p.m., the varsity teams began scrimmaging and just like the sub-varsity teams, the big boys were allotted 10 snaps each on offense, with Liberty Hill getting the ball first from the 30-yard line.
On the third snap for Liberty Hill, senior Jadon Durity-Boatright took the handoff around the right side of the line and took it to the house, untouched, for a 61-yard touchdown.
The Panthers’ first-team offense looked sharp for the majority of the scrimmage with sophomore quarterback Brandon Wells at the helm. Wells looked mobile, poised and made some strong throws. Unfortunately, his receivers could not hold on to his accurate passes.
“Thursday night we had a lot of kids that got hit in the hands with the ball and we just dropped it and swatted it away,” Vance said. “So that’s of concern.”
Defensively, the Panthers applied constant pressure to Sealy QB Adam Viertel and QB/WR Ricky Seals-Jones, forcing tipped passes that were picked off within four snaps of each other during Sealy’s first 10. Joey Kipfer nabbed the first interception and Durity-Boatright snagged the second.
After the 10-snap drills, the format changed to two timed quarters of a simulated game, where the Panthers appeared to dominate the first period.
Liberty Hill took the ball first to begin the simulated game and on the very first play swing man Alex Tatro took the handoff and ran 52 yards, but was striped from behind, fumbling and turning the ball over.
Fumbles and tackling were of concern for Coach Vance and his staff.
“We need to tackle better and we need to quit fumbling,” he said. “If we get those two things corrected then we might have a chance.”
When the Panthers’ defense took over, they forced a three and out that included a sack on third down by Zach Perez.
Back on offense, the Panthers marched down the field and punched the ball in the end zone from one yard out with Nick Barrios getting the score.
Liberty Hill scored twice more in the scrimmage with Tatro getting one and Barrios getting another. At the end of the first quarter the Panthers had a 21-6 lead.
Fumbles and penalties plagued the Panthers, especially during the second quarter. And with a mixture of ones and twos on the field, Sealy scored a last second touchdown in the second quarter that put them ahead 27-21 when the final whistle blew.
Still, all things considered Coach Vance liked what he saw from both the starters and backups.
“I thought it was one of our best scrimmages in a while and not just because we seemed to score a lot,” Vance said. “We mixed in a lot of No. 2 players with our first bunch and for the most part I thought they did well. I thought their energy and what they did do was good. They made some mistakes, but in the overall scheme of things they are the kind of mistakes that can be fixed. We were excited about it.”
OL – Coach Vance talked about the offensive line and how there is continuity from last year to this season. Four of the five offensive linemen started last season. Kody Kindle, Jeremy DeLay, Nathaniel Whitmeyer and Tyler Barrow will return for the Panthers.
“Four of them have been there together and the new kids have stepped up,” Vance said. “Their intensity was good and they acted like they knew what was going on. We felt like our offensive line was one of our strengths.”
QB – Vance said he is pleased with QB Wells’ progress and this year we will see more passes than in the past. Last season Liberty Hill passed the ball just 16 times to the 530 running plays in 2011.
“He’s a pretty smooth athlete, that’s for sure,” Vance said of Wells. “Maybe we learned how to coach better. I think we as a staff have matured and have gotten away from the (mentality) that we are just going to run all the time and know that we have to pass. We have to coach them to throw the ball and catch it.”
K –Durity-Boatright does it all from playing defensive back, swing man, returning kickoffs and punts as well as kicking. But he may have a little help in the latter area. Sophomore Lucas Rizzotto is not in completion with Durity-Boatright for the kicking job, but he will likely be utilized this season in that department.
“We’ve got a young kicker, Lucas Rizzotto, and between the two of them we think we’ll be pretty solid,” Vance said. “We lost three games last year by one point, so we are going to take advantage of both of their kicking skills and try to avoid that.”