La Grange bringing a classic cat fight to Pantherland tonight

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Mason Herrin (#44), Matt McLeod (#60), and Jon Shannon (#22) throw blocks for their teammate Logan Barnes (#8) as he dives for extra yards. The Panthers hosted Alvarado in a scrimmage last Friday. Liberty Hill’s offense showed they will be a threat on the ground with their stable of talented running backs, hard to contain with Nick Hernandez’s running ability, and balanced with their vertical passing attack. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Mason Herrin (#44), Matt McLeod (#60), and Jon Shannon (#22) throw blocks for their teammate Logan Barnes (#8) as he dives for extra yards. The Panthers hosted Alvarado in a scrimmage last Friday. Liberty Hill’s offense showed they will be a threat on the ground with their stable of talented running backs, hard to contain with Nick Hernandez’s running ability, and balanced with their vertical passing attack. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By SEAN SHAPIRO

Liberty Hill’s season-opening game against La Grange got some added outside hype two weeks ago when Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine published its list of the top 50 must-see games in 2014.

Friday night’s game checked in at No. 41 on the list, and deservedly had “classic” written all over it. However, it would be hard to argue there are 40 better games than the non-district tilt between the two Class 4A powerhouses at Panther Stadium.

Consider the facts:

– In 2013, the two teams combined for 23 wins and just three losses, while La Grange reached the Class 3A, Division I semifinals.

– Last season, La Grange outscored its opponents by a combined 326 points, and its high-octane offense averaged 41.87 points per game.

– On the flip side, Liberty Hill had one of the best defensive showings in 2013, limiting opponents to 17.3 points per game.

– Both teams bring back reigning district MVPs, and future Division I college football players.

That alone should be worth the price of admission, while the teams’ contrasting styles of play should make for an even more entertaining game.

La Grange is a slightly smaller team than it was in 2013, but has several speedy weapons back on offense, including running back Bralon Hutchinson.

Hutchinson rushed for 1,136 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior, and already has eight scholarship offers from Division I schools.

Hutchinson will split carries with sophomore J.K. Dobbins, who might be just as dangerous with the ball as the speedy senior.

“Speed is something that kills you,” Liberty Hill Head Coach Jerry Vance said. “Obviously we’re going to work and try and contain (Hutchinson). But the other running back is just as quick, so you really have two dangers you have to worry about.”

That speed creates an early season test for the Panthers’ defensive line, which will be spearheaded by defensive end Jacob Covington.

Covington had 103 tackles during his junior season and has already committed to Army, he also leads a platoon of five players that grabbed all-district honors in 2013.

Speed vs. size will also be a key when Liberty Hill has the ball on offense.

The Panthers’ Slot-T system relies heavily on its big offensive linemen paving the way, while the Leopards defense is a quick group that tries to create chaos with out of a 3-4 front.

“They’ll like to break through and drive through the line six inches off the ground,” Vance said. “They’re not as big as they were last year, so they’ll be faster and trying to rip us down by our ankles.”

While La Grange is preparing for a run-heavy attack, Liberty Hill fans might be surprised to see a couple more passes mixed into the offense this season.

In their two scrimmages against Stephenville and Alvarado, Liberty Hill worked on passing the ball more and Vance is hoping that added wrinkle will help churn up more yards and first downs.

“The newest thing that we’re trying to do is throwing the ball and being successful throwing the ball,” Vance said. “We don’t go into the game saying, ‘We’re going to throw the ball 12 times no matter what.’ Instead we go into a game with the plan of doing what will help us pick up yards, burn clock and keep our defense off the field.”

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