By TAYLOR GRAFFT
The Liberty Hill Panthers opened their brand new football stadium on Friday night in front of a packed crowd of excited Liberty Hill fans and expected to come out with a Panther Stadium inaugural victory. But a series of ball security issues and defensive lapses cost the Panthers a victory party.
The most important mishap came after a fumble on the opponent’s 18-yard line with 3:16 left in the fourth quarter, which cost them a chance to take the lead against Giddings. The Giddings Buffaloes went on to run out the clock and steal a 21-20 victory.
Despite the loss, Liberty Hill Head Coach Jerry Vance was pleased with the fight his players showed and said that a lot of the miscues and mistakes were easily correctable.
“I thought we really fought pretty hard,” Coach Vance said. “I didn’t think we ever gave up. All of those plays those kids were reaching and trying to get extra yards. And that’s always encouraging. Some of the other things we can fix. Kick off returns we can fix. Some of those coverages we can fix. I thought our kids played as hard as they possibly could and that’s all you could ask for.”
The biggest surprise from last Friday’s game was the Panthers’ lack of passing. In fact, the Panthers did not attempt a single pass in the entire ball game. Coach Vance did call a pass play at one point in the first half, but quarterback Tyler Vickers could not get the ball off in time.
Despite the one-dimensional philosophy of smash mouth football, the Panthers had a lot of success moving the ball against Giddings. Senior running back Will Fromme led the Panthers’ rushing attack with 162 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Fromme showed off his great ability to get through small holes by breaking off long runs multiple times during the game when caught in heavy traffic. Both Fromme’s and Hunter Lindsey’s one-two punch sprinkled with a little bit of Cory Ferrell and Nick Barrios was enough to wear the Giddings defense down by the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the lost fumbles got the better of the team and cost them a win.
All four of the Panthers’ backs combined for 287 yards rushing.
The Panthers’ defense struggled all night keeping up with the Giddings’ playmakers. Deon Blue, Raylon Hickey, and Josh Mack did the most damage against the Panthers.
The Liberty Hill defense really turned up the pressure in the second half, getting to quarterback Kyle Jones multiple times for the sack or the hurry. Giddings only completed two passes in the second quarter. Unfortunately, one of those passes came on an 82-yard deep ball to Josh Mack for a touchdown.
The Panther defense allowed only 120 yards on the ground and gave up 203 yards through the air.
Junior linebacker Jacob Covington led the defense with 13 tackles. While senior defensive end Dylan Liesmann led the Panthers with three sacks.
It was the defense and special team’s inability to stop the big play and the offense’s inability to hold onto the football that ultimately would decide the outcome.
The Buffaloes opened the scoring with a 31-yard field goal in the first quarter. The Panthers responded on the next drive with a four-yard touchdown run by senior running back Fromme with 2:16 left in the first quarter to make it 7-3.
Giddings then marched 89 yards following an illegal block in the back on the kickoff. Long pass plays to Raylon Hickey and Deon Blue from quarterback Kyle Jones set the Buffaloes up for a 23-yard field goal to end the first quarter with the score 7-6.
With six minutes remaining in the first half, Fromme broke off a long 61-yard rush to the Buffalos’ one-yard line. On the next play, senior Cory Ferrell punched it in from 1-yard out after an offsides call on the Buffaloes was declined. The 62-yard drive took just two plays to make it 14-6.
The Buffaloes answered right before halftime with a long 82-yard bomb from Jones to wide receiver Josh Mack who broke past the Panthers’ secondary and scored easily. A failed two-point conversion saw the score, 14-12, in favor of the Panthers at halftime.
The Panthers opened the second half with another touchdown drive—it was Fromme again, but this time from 23 yards out. The Buffaloes blocked the ensuing extra point to make it 20-12 with 5:16 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Josh Mack faked a reverse to his teammate and took it 92 yards to the end zone to silence the Panther crowd. Again, Giddings failed to convert the two-point conversion to tie the game with 4:59 left in the third quarter and the score 20-18.
A 30-yard field goal with 8 seconds left in the third quarter was enough for the Buffaloes to pull out the victory on Liberty Hill and make the score 21-20.
A series of fumbles by both teams made things interesting in the fourth quarter, but neither Liberty Hill or Giddings would score again.