By Joseph Garcia
If you thought the varsity Panthers were impressive in their big win over Wimberley, the freshmen looked every bit as good at Panther Stadium Thursday, Sept. 27.
Following games in which the 7th grade Gold (0-1-1) team tied Wimberley 0-0, while the 7th Purple (0-3) team lost 14-0, the high school’s youngest squad stepped out and took the fight to the Texans.
After trailing the Texans 6-0 early in the second quarter, Liberty Hill came from behind in a big way to win 60-32.
Similar to the varsity team, the young Panthers bounced back from an opening-week loss to an athletic Giddings team to win each of their following contests. With the freshmen’s game getting rained out against Rockdale on Sept. 20, the team’s record for the season is 3-1 to 4-1 for varsity.
“I think it happens every year with freshmen,” said Liberty Hill Coach Mike Kristan. “They kind of realize that there is a change of speed and I think we adapted to that. Giddings was pretty athletic…but we’ve adjusted defensively, our kids are playing a lot harder and are a lot more confident.”
On Thursday night, their confidence shined though, especially for Colton Cunningham.
After tying the score 6-6 with his first touchdown of the game, Cunningham scored on a seven-yard run to put the Panthers up 14-6 after a successful 2-point run by Tanner Vrabel with 2:44 remaining in the first half.
Wimberley answered back with a TD of its own, but Liberty Hill took the lead into the locker room up 14-12.
After the defense forced a turnover on downs, the Panther offense got the ball back and in the hands of Cunningham.
After a timely first down run by quarterback Keylan Herman on fourth-and-1, Cunningham took the handoff and went 34 yards up the middle for his third TD of the game.
Cunningham was only getting started.
Following another defensive stand in which Wimberley turned the ball over on downs, the Liberty Hill offense recovered the ball at the 44 and all it took was one play by No. 44, who went all the way for his fourth touchdown of the game by getting blocks from Mason Turner and Levi Curik. With his 2-point conversion, Cunningham lifted the Panthers to a 28-12 lead.
Wimberley scored with 43 seconds left in the third quarter to make it a 28-20 game and attempted an onsides kick that was recovered by Liberty Hill’s Cade Stanley.
One play later, Cunningham scored again, this time from 55 yards away. With Cunningham’s 2-point try the Panthers were up handily 36-20.
Cunningham scored twice more after that and Herman capped things off with a 55-yard TD run of his own following an interception by Bass Hamilton.
The final score came with 2:59 left to play, pushing the margin to 60-32, which would be the final.
“We’ve done this most of the year to where we just keep pounding (the ball) at them and then we just kept hitting them,” Kristan said. “Eventually a lot of people get tired of getting beat up so I think that’s our forte.”
In total, Cunningham scored seven touchdowns and four 2-point conversions for 50 overall points of Liberty Hill’s 60.
It was seemingly easy to stick with the game plan for the Liberty Hill coaches – give it to No. 44 behind a physical offensive line.
“Our depth at line is pretty deep from years past,” Kristan said. “Also, too, we’re pretty smart, we keep handing (Colton) Cunningham the ball and he finds a way to score. He’s a pretty tough kid”
Kristan said right now Cunningham is in football mode 24-7.
“He kind of has that attitude to where football is kind of his life,” Kristan explained. “He is a good kid, good leader, he’s good to his teammates, but he lives, breathes, drinks and eats football. He’s got good athletic ability, he’s a strong kid so all those things put together makes for a good football player.”
Coach Kirstan went on to talk about the state of all of the high school teams and how they have all experienced success. The proof is in the pudding so to speak as the three teams (varsity, junior varsity and freshmen) have combined for just two losses.
“We are 13-2 with all three teams so it’s fun to be at practice every day,” Kristan said. “Friday will be the six-weeks mark and we are in our eighth week of practices and we are still having fun and enjoy being out there.”
The freshmen, like varsity and JV, have a bye week this week which will give the team time to go back over some film, revisit techniques and refine the details before taking on Llano Thursday, Oct. 11.
“We’ve been watching film on Llano and we will have two weeks to prepare,” Kristan said. “Our kids have been pretty focused from top to bottom. This group is pretty good.”