By Joseph Garcia
Following the freshman loss to Giddings August 30, the junior varsity team gave the home crowd some hope.
It was a very close contest right until the end, but the JV Panthers pulled out a 37-34 win at home for a 1-0 record.
The JV coaches were impressed with the way the Panthers played, particularly in the second half.
“We talked about it at halftime, and we played well (in the first half), but we just weren’t playing Liberty Hill football, said JV Coach John Hall. “Fumbles and jumping offsides aren’t a part of what we do. It’s those little things that separate Liberty Hill football from (others). So we talked about getting those little things fixed like staying on our blocks a little bit longer, wrapping up on defense. We like to gang tackle and I thought our defense did a lot better job that second half when we created turnovers.”
All the Panthers offense did was take a 13-play drive that ate five minutes and 33 seconds off the clock to score on three-yard TD run by Taylor Pogue, giving Liberty Hill an early 7-0 advantage.
The Buffaloes responded with a five-play scoring drive and scored on a fourth-and-one with a 20-yard TD catch and run. With the point after, the game was tied 7-7 with 2:35 left in the first.
Following a nice return on the ensuing kickoff by Austin Thrash to the 38-yard line, the Panthers found the end zone again. But the key play of the drive was when quarterback Tyler Vickers converted a first down to the 16-yard line after running over a Giddings defender.
Thrash then took a pitch down to the six and Pogue punched it in from there at the 9:53 mark in the second quarter. Liberty Hill missed the extra point, but still led 13-7.
After the teams exchanged fumbles, Liberty Hill’s defense stepped up in the form of Sam Melendrez. On first down, Melendrez stepped in front of a Giddings pass, tipped the ball to himself and took it the other way 46 yards for six.
The pick-six and a successful two-point conversion gave the Panthers a 21-7 advantage with 6:12 remaining in the half.
Giddings would tighten up the halftime score on a 5-yard pass play on a fourth-and-3 to pull to 21-13.
Then, after the Panthers’ defense opened the second half with a three-and-out, the punt was muffed and the Buffaloes recovered at the LH 30.
Just three plays later Giddings tied the game 21-21 after a 17-yard touchdown catch and a successful two-point attempt.
After Liberty Hill was forced to punt, Giddings took its first lead of the game on a quick 68-yard catch and run. The extra point gave the visiting Buffaloes a 28-21 advantage with 4:33 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers were all business from there and responded with a TD on their next possession. The offensive line was dominant, pushing around the Giddings defenders and making holes for the runners.
The combination of Pogue, Gabe Shoemaker and Hunter Lyndsay proved potent. Lyndsay scored on a 13-yard run around the right side of the line and gave the Panthers the lead at 29-28 when he took in the two-point conversion. The score came at the 2:54 mark in the third, and was a lead the Panthers would not give up.
Liberty Hill’s defense forced Giddings to turn the ball over on downs and when the offense took over, Lyndsay once again scored, this time on a 29-yard run that was set up by his own 38-yard gain one play before.
The two-point score by Shoemaker put the Panthers on top 37-28 with 9:49 to play.
Giddings would, however, score another TD, but Liberty Hill held on for the narrow 37-34 win in its season opener at home.
Coach Hall told the team he was proud and knows now exactly what they are capable of – being physical. Something clicked for the JV team in the second half, especially.
“I really felt like our guys really stepped it up tonight,” Hall said. “(Giddings) is a better football team than the two teams we scrimmaged and so I really think we came in a little more confident than we needed to be and I think that showed in the first part of the game.”
The next game for the JV Panthers will be Thursday, Sept. 6, when they travel to Killeen to play Shoemaker. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.