By Joseph Garcia
Looking to remain atop District 8-3A, the freshmen Panthers took on a solid Brownwood team with a proficient offense at Panther Stadium Oct. 18.
The freshmen Panthers jumped out to an early lead as it was the Colton Cunningham show in the first series. After picking up two first downs on runs of 15 and 10 yards, Cunningham broke free for a 44-yard touchdown run to give Liberty Hill a 7-0 lead with 7:09 left in the first quarter.
The Lions worked their way back into the game to tie it up in the second half, but Liberty Hill (6-1) executed its game plan to beat Brownwood 35-21.
“Our kids play with great passion and effort and really enjoy practicing and getting better every day,” said Liberty Hill Coach Mike Kristan. “People that stepped up were QB Keylan Herman, Colton Cunningham, Kalub Foster, Justin Wilson, Copper Phelan, Levi Curik, Colby LaDuque and Mason Turner (on offense).”
Liberty Hill’s defense came up big when Brownwood tried to answer back.
Following a first-down pass to the LH five-yard line, Bass Hamilton came up with a tackle for loss on first down. The defense then gang tackled Brownwood quarterback Grant Lewis on second down for a sack, pushing the Lions back to the 13 before an incomplete pass on third.
The Panthers’ D finished the goal line stand on fourth-and-13 after Kalub Foster sacked Lewis, forcing a turnover on downs.
“(Our) defensive studs (were) Chance Runnels, Bass Hamilton, Cordell Leffelman, John Brown-Shannon, Xavier Williams and Gage Fulps,” Kristan said.
When the Liberty Hill offense took over, it drove down the field with runs by Cunningham and Tanner Vrabel into Lion territory at the 35. From there Caleb Guerrin took the toss, turned the corner and sprinted down the left side line for six. Liberty Hill led 13-0 with one minute left in the first.
After forcing a Brownwood punt, Liberty Hill increased its lead when Guerrin juked out the Lions’ defense and turned the corner for a 70-yard TD run with 8:12 in the half. The two-point try put the Panthers up 21-0.
The Lions, however, began building a comeback when Bruce Sterling returned the ensuing kickoff 73 yards for a touchdown. That score ended up being the final of the half with the Panthers leading 21-6.
Brownwood stormed back in the third quarter to tie the game at 21 after Sterling scored catches of 45 and 16 yards. Heading into the final quarter of play, the game remained tied 21-21.
When the Panthers got the ball back in the fourth quarter, they were determined to score and when faced with a punting situation, the LH coaching staff pulled one of its tricks out of the hat.
On fourth-and-10 from the Brownwood 35, the Panthers ran a fake punt play with quarterback Keylan Herman in as punter. When the ball was snapped, he found a wide open Cunningham down the Liberty Hill sideline, who ran it down to the 6. From there, Cunningham finished with a 6-yard touchdown run and with the two-point conversion put the Panthers up 29-21 with 6:33 to play.
The fake punt was something the freshmen have been working on for a while.
“We have been working that fake punt and other special teams plays to make us better for several weeks,” Kristan explained. “Coach (Joel) Gotcher gave the signal for the play.”
Following another defensive stand, Liberty Hill put the nail in the coffin when Cunningham added his third TD of the game with a one-yard run. The last score of the game sealed Liberty Hill’s 35-21 win.
With the victory, the freshmen improved to 6-1 on the season.