By TAYLOR GRAFFT
GATESVILLE — The Liberty Hill Fightin’ Panthers overcame an early deficit and came out of halftime to score 17 unanswered points to defeat the Gatesville Hornets Nov 8 in the last game of the regular season.
Junior running back Hunter Lindsay scored the go-ahead touchdown for the Panthers with 5:44 remaining in the game on a 17-yard run to make it 24-21.
Following that, senior safety River Marks intercepted a Hornets’ pass at the goal line with 0:41 seconds remaining to seal the Panthers’ victory and help them escape with their undefeated district record intact.
The game featured a lot of penalties, as well as some heated exchanges between the fans.
“The officials always do a great job,” said Liberty Hill Head Coach Jerry Vance. “The referees or officials aren’t the ones that beat you. You’re the ones that beat yourself by doing something stupid. Because nine times out of 10 the officials are correct. I know that doesn’t always make the fans in the stands happy, but when things aren’t successful and an official throws a flag, that gives them a perfect outlet to yell at. Gatesville actually had two or three more penalties than we did. Sometimes they came at more crucial times than ours did, and visa versa. That just goes back to kids playing the game fast and at a high level. Even professionals in the NFL get flagged for penalties.”
This week, the Panthers enter postseason play with a 9-1 overall record and a 5-0 record in District 8-3A. Liberty Hill faces Hillsboro Friday, Nov. 15, in the opening playoff game. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. at Temple’s Wildcat Stadium.
“Against Gatesville I thought we showed great poise,” said Vance. “You have to be tested. You have to be down a bunch and come back. Hats off to Gatesville. They played really hard and had nothing to lose. They were well coached and to be honest, our kids were on their heels a little bit, especially in the first half. But give our kids credit for responding well in the second half.
“At halftime we told the players that football is a simple game,” Vance said. “I don’t care who it is or what level it is, it’s a simple game. It comes down to whether you’re going to block and whether you’re going to tackle. When we decided to quit thinking so much and play football, we got better.
“One of the things we talked to the kids about is getting better at all of the little things,” Vance said. “We don’t want to say ‘this is how good we are’ but rather ‘how good can we be’.”
Gatesville took an early 7-0 lead on the first drive of the game. Senior running back Jake Kee rushed for 74 yards on the opening drive and punched it in from the one-yard line with 10:13 remaining in the first half.
The Panthers’ first offensive play of the game was a 44-yard pass from quarterback Tyler Vickers to Alex Rosales. The Panthers would get down to the 27-yard line, but failed to convert on a 4th and 2 play to turn the ball over on downs.
The Hornets increased their lead to 14-0 when quarterback Jeff Speer found wide receiver Tyler Strange on a 14-yard pass with 2:01 remaining in the first quarter. A defensive pass interference call on fourth down against the Panthers allowed the Hornets to keep the drive going in the red zone earlier in the possession.
Liberty Hill finally got on the scoreboard with 3:38 remaining in the half. Will Fromme broke free on a 32-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 14-7.
Gatesville would score with 0:27 seconds remaining in the half to take a 21-7 lead into the locker room. Gatesville reached into its bag of tricks and called a halfback pass. Kee found quarterback Speer wide open in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown. The Hornets had scored a 54-yard pass touchdown to Andraque Jones the play before, but it was negated after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty went against Gatesville.
Speer finished the first half 9-for-11 passing for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Kee finished with 102 yards rushing in the first half.
Vance must have given the Panthers a great half time speech because Liberty Hill came out of the locker room a totally transformed team in the second half.
The Panthers scored on their first offensive possession. A 33-yard run by Will Fromme and a 13-yard run by fullback Nick Barrios got the Panthers into the red zone. Fromme capped off the drive with a 22-yard touchdown run with 9:23 remaining in the third quarter to make it 21-14.
The Panthers’ defense held Gatesville on a 3rd and 2 play with a little over eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. On fourth down, the Gatesville punter mishandled the ball and kicked it out of the back of the end zone to prevent Liberty Hill from recovering the fumble. The result of the play was a safety with 7:55 remaining in the game. The Panthers found themselves down 21-16 and would get the ball back on the free kick.
Hunter Lindsay scored the go-ahead touchdown to give the Panthers their first lead of the game on a tough 17-yard touchdown run to the right side. Will Fromme rushed in to convert the two-point try and the Panthers were up 24-21 with 5:44 remaining.
The Hornets got the ball back with 5:40 remaining and needed a field goal to tie it, and a touchdown to win it. Gatesville converted several third down and fourth down plays to extend their drive. Gatesville got all the way down to the 14-yard line, before a holding penalty pushed the Hornets back to the 19. On 2nd and 16, senior River Marks intercepted Speer’s pass at the goal line to seal the Panthers’ fantastic comeback.
The Panthers ran the clock out and escaped Gatesville with a 24-21 victory and some more momentum and confidence going into the playoffs against Hillsboro.