By Joseph Garcia
Ever since Liberty Hill Athletic Director and Head Coach Jerry Vance accepted the position in Liberty Hill, Panther fans have become accustomed to a Slot-T offense that chews up the clock with the team breaking from a huddle after most every play.
In 2012, that has changed as Coach Vance and his staff have opted to accelerate and dictate the pace of the game by utilizing a no-huddle offense to wear down defenses.
So far, Vance is pleased with the results of the up-tempo offense, a strategy the Liberty Hill staff mulled over in the offseason.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about since December of last year,” said Coach Vance. “You go back and evaluate what you think you can do differently in the coming year to make you more successful and this is a wrinkle that we’ve been kicking around for some time and decided to commit to it. Obviously it’s paid off for us, I think. Just setting the pace of the game has been good for us and our kids.”
The Panthers certainly set the pace and controlled the tempo in their last two contests. Last Friday against Rockdale, Liberty Hill pushed the tempo and the Tigers hung with them for the first half before pulling away in the second for a 76-35 win.
Using the no huddle strategy, Liberty Hill has outscored its opponents 186-64 in its three wins over Hondo, Smithville and Rockdale.
Vance said when he first arrived in Liberty Hill the team huddled, but in a quick fashion. He said the no huddle is a way of getting back to playing with pace.
“In the old days back in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and even when we were huddling we were real, real fast,” he said. “We kind of got away from that so I think this is something that is really not new for us, but just another way of speeding it up for us.”
With the no huddle after every play a new one comes in from the Liberty Hill sideline in the form of three big cards detailed with various symbols, held by volunteers from the JV team and injured varsity players, and hand gestures.
Two of the cards are dummies and the other has the real play to help disguise the call.
“We’ve got two or three ways,” Vance explained. “One is live, some of them are dummies. Our point there is since we are calling plays in the no huddle, even though you are calling plays in front of everybody, you don’t want to broadcast what they are. Especially somebody like us who’s been in this system for so long and everybody knows what we do, we got some of them dummies and some of them live. It’s fun for the kids to be involved.”
While the kids on the sideline are involved in the game from a strategic standpoint, the young man at the helm of Liberty Hill’s new no huddle offense, sophomore quarterback Brandon Wells, is in charge of getting his troops up to the line quickly to take advantage of lagging defenses.
Wells said he welcomes the change of offensive philosophy.
“Last year, we were in the huddle and this year we went to no huddle and it’s going a lot faster,” said Wells. “The tempo has been up and we’ve been tiring defenses out. It’s been a great change for us. It’s great when you see the defense not set when you are snapping the ball it’s just a great feeling.”
The sophomore QB is improving each game with his decision making and protecting the ball. With four career starts now under his belt, Wells has ran for 90 yards on 32 carries with three rushing touchdowns.
Along with the no huddle change the Panthers are throwing a bit more and Wells has responded by completing 7 of 14 passes for three touchdowns with just one interception. In all of 2011, Liberty Hill only threw the ball 16 times which leads one to believe more passing is the game plan for the Panthers.
But even when Wells makes mistakes he has learned to have short memory.
“As the quarterback of Liberty Hill, especially in the no huddle offense, when you make mistakes you just have to let it go because the next play comes so fast,” Wells said. “If you just let it get to you it’s going to bring you down.”
One stat that is definitely not down is the team rushing total thus far through four games. In fact, the sheer number of plays ran have shown just how the no huddle has enhanced Liberty Hill productivity on offense.
As a team the Panthers have rushed 283 times for 1,808 yards and 24 touchdowns. In all of last year’s games, Liberty Hill ran the ball a total of 530 times.
This fall, the Panthers are on pace to run 708 rushing plays in the 10-game regular season, proving that the no huddle will yield more yards and more scores, making for a happy QB.
“(The no huddle) keeps us up and makes us want to keep going longer,” Wells said. “All the training that we did in the offseason has helped us so much. We have guys like JJ (Perez) and Cory Ferrell running the ball, they are just doing great; it’s all coming together.”