Back under the lights
By Scott Akanewich
Finally, after a long, barren two weeks without game action, the Liberty Hill Panthers football squad will take the field on Friday night as they host Fredericksburg in the district opener for both clubs.
According to Head Coach Jeff Walker, his club’s resumption of the current campaign can’t be soon enough.
“It’s huge,” said Walker. “You always want to come out and get a win in that first district game.”
The Panthers last played on Sept. 19, when they defeated Pflugerville Connally by a score of 59-13, as junior running back Trey Seward scored five touchdowns.
Also having a breakout performance was junior quarterback Charlie Calabretta, who got his first varsity start under center in the absence of injured starter Jacob Cearley and who will remain in that role, although that could change at any time, said Walker.
“Our quarterback, like every position on our football team, is game-by-game,” he said. “It all depends on how well our players perform.”
Cearley will move over to the defensive side of the ball to play safety, a slot that was vacated with a season-ending knee injury to Brady Brewer.
As for his squad’s 2-2 start to the season, Walker said he’s disappointed, but not necessarily surprised.
“I envisioned us being 4-0,” he said. “You never envision losing, but I thought we could start out a bit slower than last season, although I didn’t think it would take as long as it has for us to catch up.”
Senior running back Nash Robinson said he and his teammates have needed to keep their intensity level up over the course of the layoff.
“We’ve had to stay focused and not lose sight of our goals,” he said. “We’ve kept working to be the best in the district and the coaches have done a good job of keeping us in shape. It’s been a lot, but it’s good because it’ll make the games easier.”
As far as the quarterback change is concerned, there is much to get used to for Robinson and his backfield mates with a different signal-caller at the controls of the offense, he said.
“We’re so used to Jacob (Cearley) and his handoffs,” said Robinson. “But, we’re hoping Charlie can step up and fill his shoes.”
Without a game at the end of each week to serve as a motivational carrot, part of Walker’s focus has been to keep his players with their eye on the prize, he said.
“Definitely, it’s not easy to do, but I think our players have handled it well,” said Walker. “Last year, it was easier, but we had a veteran group.”
One of the objectives was to make sure his players had some time away from the demands of the gridiron, he said.
“We shortened practices and went a little slower than usual,” said Walker. “We wanted to get them home early and give them some time to be kids. The biggest thing for us was to get them some rest.”
However, Walker did have his charges running quite a bit more than usual the past two weeks in order to build up a conditioning level that he wasn’t happy with in the opening weeks of the season.
“Usually, we don’t run much after practice, so we can run our plays at full-speed,” said Walker. “We’ve been working extremely hard in practice, so I hope we’ll see a better team on the field on Friday.”
Speaking of which, Walker said his players are more than ready to take the field after two weeks of practice.
“Our players are chomping at the bit to get back out there,” he said. “We’re looking forward to getting back under the lights and seeing how guys play in their new spots.”
The Billies are led by senior quarterback Tucker Elliott, who already has thrown 12 touchdown passes on the season against only five interceptions to go with 1,110 yards passing and is also the team’s leading rusher with 286 yards, including a pair of 100-plus-yard games.
“They like to spread it out and throw it all over the field,” said Walker. “Also, they’re strong defensively.”
Senior wideout Jarrett Beard is Elliott’s favorite target, having caught 27 passes for 503 yards and eight touchdowns, while on defense senior linebacker Hunter Metzger leads the Billies with 36 tackles.
Junior quarterback Ace Whitehead is the trigger man in the pocket for the Badgers, with 1,444 yards through the air and 16 touchdowns with only two interceptions, while junior Jack Jerome leads the club in rushing with 537 yards and seven touchdowns.
The receiving corps is diversified, as four different players have already caught at least three scoring passes so far this season, led by senior Cameron Everts, who has hauled in 35 passes for 496 yards and four touchdowns.
Lampasas’ offense is one of balance, averaging 250.6 yards rushing and 297.2 passing through the first five games of the season and are averaging 53.4 points per game.
“They’re the team to beat in our district,” said Walker. “Very senior-oriented and they don’t have a lot of weaknesses.”
The Hawks run the Slot-T offense Liberty Hill has been so successful with over the years and this season are 4-1, averaging 238.6 yards on the ground, as sophomore James Bates leads with 350 yards, one of six Canyon Lake players with 100 or more rushing yards on the season.
Liberty Hill won last season’s meeting by a score of 47-0, but Walker would just as soon not face his own club in a mirror, he said.
“I don’t like playing a team who runs our stuff,” said Walker. “But, Canyon Lake is always in the running.”
The Bulldogs dropped their opening game of the season, but have since run off four consecutive wins, averaging 50.2 points per game during the current winning streak.
Currently, the Ducks are winless on the season at 0-5, having been shut out by Lockhart (35-0) and Giddings (44-0) and have been outscored 202-52.