By Joseph Garcia
GIDDINGS – The Panthers dominated most of last Friday’s season opener against the Giddings Buffaloes. Liberty Hill even had a double-digit lead with less than three minutes to play. But the win was not to be.
The Buffaloes were able to come from behind in the final minutes, recovering an onside kick to set up the game’s winning score. In front of a rambunctious home crowd, Giddings pulled it out for a 32-29 victory in a highly competitive game.
A bit hobbled by cramps, senior Jadon Durity-Boatright had a long field goal attempt to tie the game and send it into overtime. But the 45-yard attempt was missed wide left and the Panthers missed an opportunity to win the season opener after racking up 386 yards of offense.
Liberty Hill Head Coach Jerry Vance was of course disappointed losing such a close game. But one game will not determine how the season will play out.
“You don’t win the state championship on the first game,” Vance said to his team after the game.
Coach Vance would have liked to have the win, but there were plenty of positives that came from Friday night’s season opener.
“We are disappointed with the loss and all of that, but given that this was the first pre-season (non-district) game, we took an awful lot of good things out of it,” Vance said. “We can build on (those things) next week. I hope it’s not a flash in a pan, but we had several kids that stepped up and played very well. They matured it seemed throughout the game. Some of our younger kids and even some of our older kids, we
were pleasantly surprised with their outcome.”
The home team took an early lead using nine plays and driving 63 yards for an 11-yard touchdown by running back Joseph Glenn on the Buffaloes’ first possession. The score put Giddings on top 7-0 at the 4:09 mark in the first.
Liberty Hill then found itself down 10-0 when stud Buffalo kicker Michael Rangel nailed a 25-yard field goal, giving the home team and crowd something to cheer about.
The Panthers were not deterred, however.
Late in the second half, the Liberty Hill offense took over from its own 40 after an 11-yard net punt by Giddings, the ground attack dominated with runs by Durity-Boatright, Brandon Wells, Cory Ferrell and Jesse Perez. Perez, playing in his first varsity game, made up for an early fumble when he weaved through defenders to find the end zone for the Panthers’ first score of the season.
The seven-yard TD pulled the Panthers to a 10-7 score with 2:59 to play in the first half.
But before Liberty Hill knew it, the ball was theirs again when on the first play on Giddings’ ensuing possession, sophomore Jason Reeves scooped up a Buffalo fumble from the 26-yard line, taking it to the house.
The defensive score with 2:42 in the first half – Liberty Hill’s second in just 17 seconds – gave the Panthers’ their first lead of the game and the season at 14-10.
Vance was pleased with how his team bounced back from the early deficit.
“Our kids hustled real well all game long,” he said. “When they went ahead in that first quarter 10-0, we had a chance for a bunch of young kids to fold up and they didn’t. They came back. With the leadership of the seniors and the way the kids responded that’s another positive that we took out of the game.”
Liberty Hill nearly scored another time before the half was over when Giddings fumbled on the kickoff return. But as Ferrell was eyeing the end zone he was popped and the ball squirted out, putting an end to the Panther threat.
The Panthers’ defense closed out the half with excellent gang tackles as well as solo tackles on Glenn, a University of Houston commit, including one by Gary Denson.
Liberty Hill added to its lead in the third, when Ferrell scampered 39 yards for a TD. Ferrell finished the night with 179 yards rushing for one touchdown on 34 carries. The extra point was missed, however. But the Panthers were on top 20-10.
The teams traded scores to begin the final period. Giddings scored on an 80-yard bubble screen pass to speedster Greg Haywood, pulling the Buffaloes to 20-17.
Then Panther responded with a 14-play drive that ate up over six minutes off the clock, resulting in a touchdown by Wells from the one. The score put Liberty Hill up 26-17 with 6:19 to play.
Liberty Hill added to the lead at 29-17 with 2:52 to play in the game when Durity-Boatright nailed a 25-yard field goal.
But Giddings – with a 22 point fourth quarter – made a furious comeback beginning when RB Glenn scored on a 35-yard catch and run TD. With an extra point, the Buffaloes closed the gap to 29-24 with 1:52 to play.
On the ensuing onside kick, Giddings recovered the ball at the LH 35-yard line and scored the go ahead, game winning TD when Josh Mack caught a screen pass and took it 47 yards to put his team up for good. The two-point conversion gave Giddings a three point lead that would hold at 32-29.
Liberty Hill fumbled the ball four times and lost two of them as the ball carriers were nearing the goal line. Missed opportunities along with some missed tackles are something the LH coaching staff is focusing on for the next opponent – Hondo.
“We need to hold on to the ball, we need to finish the drives and our tackles,” Vance said. “(Joseph Glenn) is an exceptional runner, no doubt about that and (Greg Haywood) is as fast a kid as we’re going to see especially in our part of the world. Especially with Glenn we had several times we hit him with pretty good shots and just didn’t wrap up. So we need to finish our tackles and finish our runs. Our whole thing this week is that we need to finish.”
In addition to Ferrell, offensive leaders for the Panthers were Perez who ended with 111 yards rushing and a TD on 18 carries and QB Wells with 53 yards on the ground for one score.
Defensively, Liberty Hill forced three fumbles and had one interception by Reeves, who also scored on a fumble return to complete the hat trick of causing, recovering and scoring on the same play.
Junior Chris Robinson had two sacks with Jordan Skinner, sophomores Jacob Covington and Will Smith each adding one a piece. Kyle Marshall and Gary Denson each recorded five solo tackles
Liberty Hill will host Hondo Friday, Sept. 7, at Panther Stadium with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m.