By Joseph Garcia
LAMPASAS – Last year when Liberty Hill traveled to Lampasas the game was to determine the District 25-3A champion. This year when the Panthers arrived at Badger Field, both teams were fighting for their playoff lives with the loser officially being eliminated from postseason play.
The Panthers struggled last Friday to get things going on offense against a stingy Lampasas defense that forced them to punt on their first two possessions, and recovered a fumble on the third Liberty Hill drive.
With Liberty Hill driving for the go-ahead score, John Cole Vann picked up the fumble and returned the ball to the Badger 21. Three plays later, quarterback Kleg Kennedy snuck the ball over the goal line for a 1-yard TD.
It was the Panthers’ night; however, as they scored 28 unanswered points to keep themselves alive for the final playoff spot with a 28-7 win.
With the first quarter nearly over, Lampasas took a 7-0 lead with 1:55 on the clock.
Liberty Hill’s defense, however, began making plays of its own, forcing Lampasas to punt, which set the Panthers up for the equalizer.
“We played pretty simple and basic defense,” Liberty Hill Coach Jerry Vance said of the shut-down defense. “It helps to be the guy that gave them the offense. We know the offense, they know the offense. We just went into it with a little different attitude than what we have been.”
The Panthers used a nine-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game up after converting four first downs before junior Cory Ferrell punched the ball in from two yards out. With the extra point from Robinson Placek, the game was tied 7-7 with 6:54 remaining in the half.
Ferrell finished the night with 157 yards rushing and one touchdown to lead the Panthers.
Liberty Hill had a chance to take the lead after Jacob Dudgeon snagged the ball away from Kennedy on a fumble to set the Panthers up at mid-field. The Panthers drove down inside the 19 before a holding call negated a 20-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brandon Wells on fourth-and-4. The penalty backed Liberty Hill up to the 30 and the Panthers were unable to convert the long fourth down play.
The Panther defense held Lampasas from scoring before the end of the half, forcing the Badgers to punt from inside the Liberty Hill 40. Liberty Hill took over at its own 10 and ran the clock out, taking a 7-7 tie into the locker room.
Liberty Hill took a 14-7 lead on a 5-yard Jesse Perez touchdown with 5:23 to play in the third and a Placek extra point.
Perez finished second in rushing for Liberty Hill with 123 for the game with one TD.
There was a near disaster for the Panthers following a muffed punt from Jadon Durity-Boatright that was recovered by Lampasas. But his teammates lifted him up as Brandon Wells took the ball right back three plays later at the Liberty Hill four.
Lampasas came close to scoring again, but would not see the end zone the rest of the evening as Liberty Hill’s defense dominated the second half coming away with three total interceptions — two from Wells — to seal the Badgers’ fate.
Wells made plays on both sides of the ball Friday night and loves getting a chance to contribute on defense.
“When they call my name to go on defense a rush goes through me,” said Wells. “I want to contribute as much as I can. I want to help the team and when I make plays like that it carries out through the whole team and it’s just a great feeling.”
The Panthers added two more scores before all was over.
Will Fromme took it to the house from 41 yards out and Nick Barrios scored on a 5-yard touchdown to help push the final score to 28-7.
Liberty Hill will now play Gatesville in what will be the final game ever at Panther Stadium. The Panthers must defeat the Hornets and hope Lampasas can beat Burnet in order to make the playoffs.
Gatesville (9-0) is undefeated on the year and will be the most challenging opponent on Liberty Hill’s schedule this season. Coach Vance is not one to back down, however.
“Obviously we got our work cut out for us,” he said. “But we still have a chance. What do we have to lose?”
The final kickoff in Panther Stadium is set for Friday, Nov. 9, at 7:30 p.m.