Hernandez leads the way against Lions

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Nick Hernandez dives for a first down against Brownwood. The quarterback rushed for three crucial touchdowns in the victory. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Nick Hernandez dives for a first down against Brownwood. The quarterback rushed for three crucial touchdowns in the victory. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By BOB VARMETTE

Nick Hernandez was the difference in the third quarter of Liberty Hill’s 43-36 victory against Brownwood last Friday.

The senior quarterback was the catalyst in that pivotal quarter and rushed for a pair of touchdowns, which turned a 22-21 Liberty Hill deficit into a 36-22 advantage heading into the final 12 minutes.

Hernandez then added the game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter, and the Panthers held off a late charge by the Lions.

“In my whole career – Pop Warner, junior high, freshman – that’s the best game I’ve ever had,” Hernandez said. “If it weren’t for the (offensive) line, we wouldn’t score anything. So all the glory pretty much goes to them. We’re just the ones who carry the ball.”

Liberty Hill Coach Jerry Vance said Hernandez’ breakout performance can be attributed to his work on the track.

“He’s been on the track team all his years in high school,” Vance said. “People need to understand that track makes you faster. It’s certainly paid off for him.”

It certainly paid dividends for the Panthers (2-1). And it left the Lions (1-2) wondering, “what if?”

The success of Liberty Hill’s Slot-T offense is largely predicated on misdirection. Players are just as obligated to carry out their fakes as they are to carry the ball.

“I think he’s a real good athlete, he runs their offense real well for them,” Brownwood Coach Chuck Howard said. “I think he was a cornerback for them for a year ago and he’s got good speed. It’s all that misdirection stuff. You really can’t show a great example of this offense in practice as well as they execute it. … We had him wrapped up twice in the backfield and we just let him go.”

Hernandez, who finished with 142 yards and three touchdowns, had 25 yards on seven carries at halftime.

That all changed in the third quarter.

Hernandez scored his first touchdown on a five-yard run with 5:10 left in the quarter, lifting the Panthers into a lead they never relinquished. Hernandez’ short jaunt capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ate up 5 minutes, 50 seconds.

Less than four minutes later, after a Brownwood drive downwind fizzled with a missed 47-yard field goal, Liberty Hill went on the march again. The Panthers went 70 yards, but needed just four plays to take a 36-22 lead. Hernandez went the last 38 yards, scoring with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter.

Hernandez scored his final touchdown just 56 seconds into the fourth quarter, scampering 52 yards to put Liberty Hill up 43-22.

“He’s established himself as a leader,” Vance said. “He isn’t just talking about it. He gets it done.”

Hernandez, who ran on a pair of relays that advanced to the Region I-3A track meet last spring, provided the scoring, but he wasn’t the only spark for Liberty Hill in the second half. Senior fullback Gabe Shoemaker — subbing for Jon Shannon after Shannon rushed for 116 yards on 10 carries in the first half — had key runs in the final two quarters and finished with 53 yards on seven carries.

And it wasn’t just Hernandez and Shoemaker who turned the second half around for the Panthers. It all started up front.

“We thought we had a pretty good scheme to stop the fullback, but the bottom line is whoever wins the battle of the line of scrimmage is going to win that,” Howard said. “I thought they did a better job of blocking up front and executing than we did on defense and that’s why they were able to win up front and establish the fullback.”

Which made the deceptiveness of Hernandez even more deceptive, the senior quarterback even more effective, Howard said.

The Lions rallied and made it a game, scoring a pair of touchdowns in less than three minutes midway through the fourth quarter. But Hernandez’ final touchdown tamed the Lions.

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