Dynamic duo fuels Panther offense

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By Scott Akanewich

One will run over you.

The other will run right past you.

Blake Simpson and Trey Seward form a backfield duo that has a combination of power and speed the likes of which any coach would love to have lining on on Friday nights.

Both backs eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the season during the Panthers’ 63-0 home win against Taylor on Nov. 1 and are quickly blazing and bashing their way to local dominance, with Seward (1,183 yards) and Simpson (1,042) ranked one-two respectively in the district.

According to Liberty Hill Head Coach Jeff Walker, having the two-headed, ground-gaining monster of Simpson and Seward in the lineup together is a potent weapon.

“You need playmakers in your backfield,” said Walker. “Guys like that can turn a bad play into a good one.”

Walker added the fact that the players are different in their running styles provides nightmares for opposing defenses.

“Over the years, we’ve had big backs who didn’t have speed and we’ve also had faster backs who weren’t as powerful,” he said. “So, it’s good to have them as a one-two punch.”

Throw in a combined 23 touchdowns between Seward (12) and Simpson (11) and the pair provides not only the critical yards between the 20s, but finishing potential once the Panthers’ offense gets into the red zone.

Of course, sometimes red-zone execution isn’t needed, as the game against Taylor proved, when Seward broke off scoring runs of 83 and 43 yards, while Simpson ran one all the way from 69 yards out.

Seward said the 83-yarder was especially enjoyable.

“It was awesome, really,” he said. “I broke to the outside, but then in a split-second the cutback opened up.”

Although Seward has run the ball out of the backfield his entire football life including on the Panthers’ freshman squad two years ago, he was a cornerback last season for the varsity, which caused a bit of consternation when it came time to once again carry the ball at the varsity level, he said.

“Coming in this season, I didn’t know what to expect because I’m not the biggest or strongest back,” said Seward. “The pace on varsity is a lot faster, but as time has gone by, I’ve gotten used to it.”

Certainly has.

Seward is averaging a hefty 10.2 yards per carry this season, not bad for a maiden voyage across the seas of varsity football.

Walker credited Seward’s quick adjustment to the varsity game and his subsequent success to what he already had at his disposal.

“Trey’s a natural runner,” he said. “He makes good moves and has excellent vision on the field.”

But, Seward is quick to credit his recent success to the big boys up front on the Liberty Hill offensive line.

“All I do is trust in my blockers, then turn it upfield,” he said.

However, despite his explosiveness and propensity for the big play, Seward knows his primary job is to simply grind out short-to-medium range gains and if there is anything more on a particular play, it’s a bonus.

“Most times I’m just happy to keep the offense moving forward,” said Seward.

After all, Walker wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I always tell Trey to just go get me four yards,” said Walker. “After that, you can go make a play and get me 60.”

A little too much trickery from a back can backfire in a hurry, he said.

“We don’t like our backs to stop and start dancing,” said Walker. “When you do that, bad things can happen.”

Of course, the only kind of two-step Simpson ever does is of the slam-dance variety, bashing his way up inside the mosh pit of madness in the area between the tackles, which means there are certain to be battle scars and the 6-foot-2, 200-pound bruiser is no exception, although he usually gives out more than he takes, said Walker.

“It’s good to see a young man who works hard always try to stay on his feet,” he said. “Blake’s a load to bring down.”

Look no further than the Taylor game, during which Simpson carried a pair of defenders 20 yards down the field before finally being brought down.

Seward said he and his running mate get excited for each other when such a play unfolds.

“We always compliment each other when we have good runs,” he said. “We also let each other know what we’re seeing out there as far as the defense. For example, right before his long touchdown against Taylor, I mentioned to him the cutback was there and he took it.”

Another dimension the combo brings to the table is the ability to wear down defenses who don’t know where or how they will be hit next – even if they think they do, said Seward.

“It’s pretty cool when we run Blake up the middle three or four times in a row and the defense is looking for that,” he said. “Then, I’ll get the ball on a reverse to the outside.”

Adding to the duo’s amazing accomplishments is the fact the Panthers’ offensive line has been in a constant state of flux all season, said Walker.

“We’ve had a whole bunch of different guys on our offensive line,” he said. “Only our strong tackle (Keegan Klaus-Ryan), center (Ryley Rosenbusch) and quick guard (Jed Lapuszynski) have been in the same place all season.”

Another lineup change occurred when fullback Nate Robinson was moved to defense, with Eric De La Cruz stepping in as the third back, but the biggest one of all has been the rotation of quarterbacks, with junior Charlie Calabretta taking over after starter and senior Jacob Cearley was lost to injury in the second game of the season, only to return under center for the past two games.

Cearley’s return to signal-calling duties has certainly sparked the Panthers’ offense as they have averaged 450 yards on the ground in the two games since, a fact not lost on Walker, he said.

“Jacob’s really good at taking what the defense gives us,” said Walker. “But, he’s also a very fast, athletic young man who’s been in those situations before. After you play in a state championship game, you’re not going to be nervous in a district game, so he helps boost everyone’s confidence.”

Seward agreed with Walker’s assessment.

“Jacob’s made a huge difference since he’s been back,” he said. “He always keeps us calm in the huddle and tells us we’re going to get this.”

Walker singled out De La Cruz’ contributions to the cause.

“Eric has come in and done well for us,” he said, of the junior who has added 329 yards and a pair of touchdowns. “Even though he hasn’t gotten a lot of carries.”

With the way the Panthers have struggled as a team this season, Walker believes his players have at times been guilty of trying too hard to reverse their fortunes, especially those responsible for gaining yardage and putting up points.

“I think for a long time our guys were just trying to do too much,” he said. “You can’t do more than you’re capable of – all you can do is focus on one carry at a time, but at the same time, you can’t fault someone for trying to get that extra yard. Although at some point, you need to let the game come to you.”

Suffice to say, Simpson and Seward have done plenty of focusing this season and when the game hasn’t come to them, they’ve gone out and gotten it themselves.

As far as his dynamic backfield duo is concerned, Walker is convinced the pair of juniors can build on the accomplishments of this season heading into next, he said.

“I think both of them can be a lot better,” said Walker. “Blake has a knee, which has been bothering him this season, so we need to get him healed up. And as far as Trey is concerned, we need to get more weight on him and make him a little faster.”

A stronger Seward and a faster Simpson?

Certainly a prospect that bodes well for next year’s Panther squad.

Kind of like having both an immovable object and an irresistible force in the same backfield.

Good luck, opposing defenses.

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