By Joseph Garcia
Emotions were running high Friday as Liberty Hill took the field for the final time at Panther Stadium and if that was not enough, it was senior night with undefeated Gatesville in town ready to fight for its 10th win in front of a standing room only crowd.
Liberty Hill found itself in a 28-0 hole when running back Jake Kee scored his third TD of the half on a 35-yard run.
The Panthers, however, answered back with their first score of the game on a Jesse Perez 26-yard touchdown run after the Liberty Hill defense forced Gatesville to punt for the first time in the game.
Fans and parents could hold their heads high as the Panthers gave the Hornets a fight. However, the district champion Hornets were too much for Liberty Hill with the final score coming to 48-25.
“That was a good football team, we knew that,” said Liberty Hill Coach Jerry Vance. “They just did a better job. It’s their time, we’ll get ours.”
It was not a good start for the Panthers as it took just two plays for the visiting Gatesville Hornets to score with junior running back Jake Kee taking the handoff and going 30 yards for the game’s first score. With 11:19 on the clock the Hornets led 7-0.
After the Panthers turned the ball over on downs, it was Kee once again with the TD run as he took the direct snap and went untouched up the middle for a 50-yard score. With the extra point form Sebestian Corrales the Hornets took a 14-0 lead.
The Hornets scored their 21st unanswered point on a 78-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cole Edmiston to Tyler Jaynes with 1:20 still left in the first quarter.
Liberty Hill’s defense began to pick up and River Marks gave them a spark, picking off Edmiston at the Gatesville 30.
The Panthers then used just four plays to punch the ball in the end zone with Perez taking it in from six yards out. With 1:42 remaining in the first half, Liberty Hill cut the Gatesville lead to 28-13.
Liberty Hill was in the game at halftime with the score 28-13, but Gatesville’s defense forced the Panthers to punt on their two first possessions of the second half and added to their lead with a 43-yard field goal from Corrales. The Hornets followed that up with a 20-yard touchdown catch from Edmiston to Tyler Jaynes to go up 38-13.
There was no quit in the Panthers as they answered with a 1-yard TD run by Kody Allen that was set up by a 19-yard Jadon Durity-Boatright catch. With the score 38-19, the Panthers still had a glimmer of hope.
Coach Vance said the fact that the team left everything out on the field was partially due to coaching.
“That’s a testament to the coaching staff,” Vance said. “There is a lot of pride out here. I think the coaching staff did a great job of making some adjustments and we slowed them down quite a bit from the second quarter on and we moved the ball.”
But it was not to be for the Panthers in 2012 with the playoffs eluding them and with tough teams like Gatesville and Brownwood having an up year.
The final score in the last game at the now-old Panther Stadium was 48-25, but the fans and parents stayed around to soak up the memories of the moment and to share past times as well.
Of course it did not help that Liberty Hill’s coaching staff had to put together a makeshift offensive line seemingly every week.
“It was just one of those years,” Vance said of the injuries. “I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a year where we had so many injuries and other things happen on the outside that was tough. I don’t think we had an offensive line that was intact since (Giddings).”
Gatesville was just too good this year and with Burnet defeating Lampasas 29-27, Liberty Hill would not have made the playoffs anyway. Liberty Hill Coach Jerry Vance said this group of seniors was one of the toughest classes he’s ever seen and it showed on Friday night.
“I think one of the things that was unique about this class is that there were really just about 13 of them left that started as seventh graders that held together,” Vance said. “They were by far the toughest.”
Football, like all sports, is just a game people play to have fun. It can also be a learning tool used to mold high school boys into young men.
Winning is secondary for Coach Vance and as long as he and his coaching staff can make a positive change in at least one young man’s life, a championship does not matter in the end.
“Making a positive difference in these young people’s lives is really what this is about,” Vance explained. “Let’s face it, this is a silly game and no one will make their livelihood playing football. What we want to do is to help these young men to become the kind of young men our society needs now a days. Honest, hardworking, knowing how to overcome obstacles, not be afraid of making a decision and knowing with every decision there are positive or negative consequences and how we deal with them is vital.”
This team did experience getting to defeat a defending state champion in Wimberley at home and went on the road and played tough against playoff-caliber opponents.
Throughout a football season there are ups and downs both on the field and personally in the lives of players and coaches. Despite Liberty Hill finishing with a 6-4 record, there were many lessons to be learned in the 2012 football season.
“I think a couple of lessons can be learned,” Vance said. “When you have success, enjoy it. Success is very fragile – negative outside influences, selfishness and jealousy all have an effect on the amount of success you have. I think these young men did a great job of overcoming injuries, personnel changes and situations beyond anyone’s control that were great distractions to the focus of the team. Our kids really did an outstanding job. Success is not always measured (as a lot of people in the stands believe) by the number of wins.”
Liberty Hill loses Kody Allen, Tyler Barrow, Dylan Carpenter, Blake Champion, Jeremy DeLay, Jacob Dudgeon, Joseph Dudgeon, Jadon Durity-Boatright, Colby Ellis, Kody Kindle, Kyle Marshall, Jesse Perez, Zack Perez, Jeremy Rizzotto, Jordan Skinner, Austin Steed, Alex Tatro, David Thomasson and Nathaniel Whitmeyer to graduation.
While the seniors will be missed, Coach Vance likes the valuable experience gained by the younger players who will get to open the new Panther Stadium in fall 2013.
“We like the experience our underclassmen got during the season,” Vance said. “We will build on the positives, get the negatives straightened out and be more successful next year.”