Defense comes up big in 21-17 win against Taylor

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TAYLOR – The Liberty Hill Panthers are still undefeated in District 14-4A Division I. But just.

It took another game-saving play from the defense to keep the Panthers’ perfect district mark intact, turning away the Taylor Ducks at the goal line to preserve a 21-17 lead Friday night at The Duck Pond.

With the Ducks inside the Panthers 1-yard-line – about 18 inches away from ending their days as a winless team – and on fourth down, the Ducks’ Devin Taylor was greeted by Panthers linebacker Christian Anderson and then pushed back to the 2-yard-line by a swarm of Liberty Hill defenders.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking, honestly,” Anderson said. “We really had to buckle down and basically put a stop to it because it was fourth and short and they were about to score. Scoring a touchdown would’ve sealed the game, so we had to take them out.”

Liberty Hill (5-2, 2-0 District 14-4A Div. I) was forced to survive a last-minute challenge from an opponent for the second straight week. The week previous it was in a 19-14 win over the Canyon Lake Hawks; this time the winless Ducks got one last opportunity to take the district favorites to the very end.

Taylor (0-7, 0-2) got its final chance thanks to a rare short punt from Lucas Rizzotto. Pressured heavily by the Ducks, the Panthers senior was only able to get off a 13-yard punt.

That gave the Ducks the ball on the Panthers 29-yard-line with 2:52 remaining in the game. Two running plays from Taylor, who led the Ducks with 80 yards on the ground, got them to the 7, and two carries from Armando Solis put the ball inside the 1.

Fourth-and-goal from inside the one, Taylor called its final time out with 30.1 seconds in the game.

“I told them that we’ve got to make a stop – playmakers make plays,” Liberty Hill coach Jerry Vance said. “We did some things different on the goal line than we have in the past that we hadn’t done this week. The kids stepped up and performed. We’re fortunate to get out of here with a win.”

It didn’t look like a close match at the start. The Panthers took the opening kickoff and went on a classic Liberty Hill drive – a march that spanned 18 plays over 72 yards and ate up 8 minutes, 45 seconds. Junior fullback Jon Shannon finished it with a 1-yard run to put Liberty Hill up 7-0.

Early in the second quarter, the Panthers showed they could do it quickly, too. Caleb Guerin scored on a 70-yard run with 10:58 in the first half and Liberty Hill’s lead was 14-0.

The Ducks responded with a pair of touchdowns on their next two drives to send the teams in at half tied at 14.

“That’s the kind of kids we have, I know they have a ‘no-quit’ attitude,” Taylor coach Rusty Purser said. “I think I got the right group of guys to keep moving forward. … To really bow up and do some good things tonight, to shut them down from what their strengths are, I’m very proud of our defense.”

Purser had reason to be proud. The Ducks limited the Panthers to just 239 yards – all on the ground.

But the Panthers were stout on defense, as well, limiting a potentially high-powered Ducks offense to 314 total yards. Taylor did find some success in running the ball, picking up 214 yards on the ground, but the last yard – the one yard they really needed – never came.

“I love my brothers – they did a great job tonight,” Anderson said. “Taylor’s a lot better team than what they’ve showed in their record. They came out and played. … I give them credit. They came out pretty strong.”

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