Late score saves Liberty Hill against Rockport-Fulton

After Saturday's win over Rockport-Fulton, the Panthers advance in the playoffs to face arch-rival Burnet at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5. (Kathy Canady Photo)

After Saturday’s win over Rockport-Fulton, the Panthers advance in the playoffs to face arch-rival Burnet at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5. (Kathy Canady Photo)

SAN ANTONIO-With their backs against the wall in the final minute of the fourth quarter and needing a touchdown, sophomore Garrett Wright of the Liberty Hill Panthers gave his team the play they needed to keep their season alive.

With 0:38 left in the game, senior quarterback Nick Hernandez rolled out to the left sideline and heaved a 49-yard pass to the sophomore, who did well to get separation from the Rockport-Fulton cornerback, for the go-ahead touchdown.

It was the Panthers’ second pass attempt and completion of the game for a total of 52 yards. The touchdown gave Liberty Hill a 24-21 lead over Rockport-Fulton, but the Panthers were not done yet.

With 0:19 left in the fourth quarter, the Panthers’ pass rush got to Pirates’ quarterback Anthony Resendez and forced a fumble. Junior Liberty Hill linebacker Colton Cunningham, who had already played a great game prior, picked up the ball for a 15-yard scoop and score to ice the game, 31-21.

Wright, the Panthers’ backup quarterback, was in the game at halfback for the injured Logan Barnes and had been running that particular play all week in practice for situations just like the one the Panthers found themselves in at Alamo Stadium in San Antonio on Saturday afternoon.

“The situation with two minutes is something we work on in practice every week,” Coach Jerry Vance said. ”It wasn’t anything our kids weren’t accustom to—it was a normal pass play. We always try to put them under pressure. Obviously it all worked out for the better.”

When the clock read 0:00 on the Alamo Stadium scoreboard, Liberty Hill had officially booked their trip to the Quarterfinals against longtime rival Burnet. Burnet defeated Robison 38-35 Friday night to move on in the playoffs.

It is a matchup that both Liberty Hill and Burnet fans have been anticipating since the start of the year when they learned they would no longer be in the same district in football because of the UIL realignments.

Junior tailback Caleb Guerin led all rushers with 77 yards on two carries in the first half. He scored a 72-yard touchdown on his first carry and added a 5-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

Although junior fullback Jon Shannon was quiet in the first half (36 yards), the junior exploded in the second half and produced another 100-plus yard performance. Shannon finished the game with 102 yards. It’s the eighth time this season that Shannon has gone over the 100-yard mark in a game. It was the first time since October Shannon has failed to find the end zone, thus ending his streak at six straight games with a touchdown.

Liberty Hill rushed for a total of 254 yards on 45 carries. Hernandez finished 2-for-2 passing for 52 yards and a touchdown.

Coach Vance was pleased with the effort his defense gave in limiting the Pirates’ quarterback Resendez, the Pirates’ second leading rusher this season, to only 64 yards rushing.

“We knew we were going to give up some,” Vance said. “But our defense did well to keep number 18 (Resendez) in check most of the time. More than anything we weren’t going to let him beat us. We wanted to force them to go somewhere else.”

Rockport-Fulton took a 7-0 lead with 1:51 remaining in the first quarter on a two-yard touchdown rush by junior running back Austen Reynolds.

The Panthers answered two plays later on a 72-yard touchdown run by junior tailback Caleb Guerin.

With 7:56 left in the second quarter, Caleb scored his second touchdown on his second carry of the game from five yards out to give Liberty Hill their first lead, 14-7.

Senior placekicker Lucas Rizzotto extended Liberty Hill’s lead to 17-7 on a 44-yard field goal with 1:17 remaining in the first half.

On the Pirates’ first possession of the second half, Resendez scored from nine yards out to cap off a 11 play, 60-yard scoring drive that took over four and a half minutes off the clock.

Rockport-Fulton regained the lead in the fourth quarter with 5:42 remaining on a 53-yard rush by Reynolds on fourth and medium to go up 21-17.

With under two minutes remaining in the game Liberty Hill’s defense stopped the Pirates’ offense short of the first down and forced a punt.

Liberty Hill’s offense took over with under a minute left and only needed one play to retake the lead via the quarterback-to-backup pass connection.

Cunningham’s scoop and score put the game out of reach in the final seconds and kept Liberty Hill’s playoff run alive.