By Joseph Garcia
ROCKDALE – The term “barn burner” does not do justice to describe the game between the Liberty Hill Panthers and the Rockdale Tigers Sept. 21. Fortunately for the Panthers, their fire burned twice as fierce as the home team Tigers.
In what seemed to be the longest first quarter in high school football history, the two teams went back and forth with the Tigers coming out on top 14-12 after one. But what was an offensive domination by both teams was quickly tilted by the defensive play of Liberty Hill’s secondary.
With the defense pitching in on the scoreboard and the offense steamrolling, Liberty Hill (3-1) took it to Rockdale (2-2) to the tune of a 76-35 final score on what Panthers’ Head Coach Jerry Vance said was a strange game.
“That was quite a game. I don’t know if I’ve ever been part of a game that was like that,” said Vance. “It was definitely a unique situation and experience. You are glad you won but it was a weird way.”
Coming off the heels of his first interception in the end zone that directly took six points off the board for Rockdale, a pick-six by senior cornerback Jadon Durity-Boatright, was seemingly the turning point of the game with the Tigers driving deep into Liberty Hill territory. Instead of the Tigers pulling to within 42-35, Durity-Boatright took the INT back 58 yards to the house, putting the Panthers up 49-28.
Durity-Boatright had four interceptions in the game, a career high for one game, as the Tigers continued to test the speedy senior.
The senior cornerback was tested the most he had been all season last Friday night and Rockdale paid for challenging the all-district player.
“After that first interception they tried to call it a touchdown and I said ‘no way’,” said Durity-Boatright. “After that I went off and got the second one and the third one…it was just a great game overall. After the first half was over I was (already) so tired.”
To the Tigers’ credit, they came out firing with their second-string quarterback Clayton Gibbs in after starter Ethan Brinkley was sidelined in the first half with an apparent leg injury.
Gibbs came out in the first drive of the second half and tossed a 22-yard pass to Pearce Loth for a touchdown that closed the gap to 56-35. But that would be the final score of the night for Rockdale with 9:57 left in the third quarter with a whole fourth period to play.
The Panthers continued to dominate, especially Durity-Boatright, who had his second pick-six of the night that he took back 63 yards to put the Panthers up 63-35 with 1:11 to play in the third. In addition to two defensive touchdowns, he also scored twice on offense for a total of four TD’s on the night.
In the game, Durity-Boatright racked up 152 yards of rushing on six carries for two touchdowns, as one of three Liberty Hill players to hit the century mark in rushing as Cory Ferrell (101) and Jesse Perez (199) competed the feat as well.
“It’s just great getting the opportunity to (contribute on offense and defense),” Durity-Boatright said. “I have to give it to my blocking though. They were awesome on the touchdowns I had on offense; it was great.”
In all of Vance’s years of coaching, he said he could not recall one guy having four interceptions in one game. He was impressed by Durity-Boatright’s performance but knows the rest of the defense had a lot to do with his success.
“To be real honest, I can’t remember one guy having four interceptions and running two of those back for touchdowns,” Vance said. “It was a special night for Jadon (Durity-Boatright). Along those same lines when Jadon is making those interceptions somebody is pressuring the quarterback and somebody is having to block. The rest of the defense had a lot to do with that also.”
Knowing the Tigers would be passing the rest of the game, the defense started to tee off on the quarterback with constant pressure with guys like Zach Perez and Jacob Dudgeon in the face of Gibbs.
Not to be lost in the game, however, was the passing of the Panther offense as sophomore quarterback Brandon Wells tossed not one but two touchdown passes in Friday’s game, both to senior tailback Jesse Perez.
Wells finished the game completing five of eight passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns.
Coach Vance was pleased with his young quarterback’s decision making.
“For us, two passes for touchdowns is not unique, we’ve done it before, but Brandon (Wells) did have a good night of reading and making the right decisions where to throw and the receivers did a great job of catching the ball at crucial times,” Vance said. “I was happy with the way the passing game came along Friday night.”
Perez had another big game with 199 yards on the ground, but he showed his versatility and good hands with his two TD grabs.
“JJ (Perez) had 199 yards Friday night, which is not anything to sneeze at, and two receptions for touchdowns,” Vance said.” He had a very good night also.”
In the end, the Panthers were way too much for Rockdale to handle as they won handily 76-35.
Things will not get any easier for the Panthers, however, as they will host the reigning state champions, the Wimberley Texans, Friday, Sept. 28 at Panther Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.