LHHS advances to playoffs after win over Gatesville
By KEITH SPARKS
Liberty Hill’s 30-15 victory over Gatesville Friday secures the Panthers a spot in the first postseason game next Friday against Canyon Lake.
Last week, Panthers’ Head Coach Jerry Vance talked about how his defense needed to step up and make some big plays in order to stop the big plays on the other side of the ball that have plagued the Panther defense all season. Less than two minutes into the first quarter, however, Gatesville capitalized on a big play: a 52-yard touchdown pass to Jose Gamez.
On the extra point, the Panther defense was penalized for roughing the kicker. The Hornets accepted, and went for two instead. After converting on a run up the middle, the Hornets were quickly up 8-0 with 10:56 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers answered shortly after with a 13-yard touchdown run by Freddie White. Back-to-back first down runs by White and Hunter Oncken set up the Panthers’ first touchdown of the evening. Despite being down two, Liberty Hill opted to kick an extra point, resulting in an 8-7 lead for Gatesville.
After forcing a Gatesville punt, the Panthers ran one of their typical, calculated, short-run-after-short-run drives, taking time off the clock and wearing out the Hornet defense. On fourth and 4 inside the Hornets’ 10-yard line, the Panthers were set to go for it on fourth down, but a false start forced the Panthers to kick a 29-yard field goal, instead, to take a 10-8 lead.
The Panthers were able to force a turnover on downs after huge tackles for losses by Bryce McCatty and Dean Gidrey on third and fourth down. The physicality shown by the Panther defense on that possession is something that the Panthers focused on in practice this week, according to Coach Vance, though he does want his team to focus on being more consistent with their physicality.
“One of the big things we had to do was come in and play physical,” Vance said. “I thought we did that for a couple or three quarters. I think consistency is something we need to work on now.”
The Panthers’ resulting possession resulted in a 48-yard touchdown run on just the second play of the drive by Oncken. The Panthers took a 17-8 lead with 8:09 to play in the second quarter.
Soon after Oncken’s touchdown, Liberty Hill forced the Hornets into a fourth-down situation from their own 22-yard line, but were fooled by a fake punt that ended up with a Gatesville first down run off a direct snap to their fullback, Owen Sibley. The Hornets tried yet another fake punt on their next fourth down, but the Panthers would not be fooled a second time. They took over from the opposing 36-yard line after a turnover on downs with close to four minutes to play in the first half.
Another long, slow drive from the Panthers resulted in a 5-yard rushing touchdown by Hunter Oncken with less than two minutes to play in the first half to give him his second touchdown of the game. Liberty Hill increased their lead to 24-8 just before halftime.
The Panthers threatened to score again before halftime, as Dyllon Joiner took off for 20-plus yards on a reverse that tricked the defense, but the play was called back on a hold. Quarterback Garrett Wright did all he could to will the Panthers to another touchdown before halftime, but was tackled 18 yards away from the end zone after a 27-yard run to end the half. The Panthers held a 24-8 lead into halftime.
Liberty Hill’s first possession of the second half ended in a 42-yard field goal attempt that was left just short by kicker Michael Shipley. The Panthers then forced Gatesville to punt, but were called for a chop block on their first play of the second half, bringing up a first and 25 situation. White got that yardage back, plus some, on a 49-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 30-8 lead after a failed two-point conversion.
A huge 14-yard pass by the Hornets on fourth and long gave them a first down from the Panthers’ 26-yard line. One of Gatesville’s receivers dropped a sure touchdown in the end zone, but they were able to follow it up with a 14-yard touchdown pass on a halfback screen. They converted the ensuing extra point to bring the score to 30-15 in favor of the Panthers.
Gatesville recovered an onside kick immediately after their touchdown, but the play was called back after a flag was thrown on the Hornets for illegal procedure twice in a row on kickoffs. The Panthers’ next possession ended in a punt, after which the Hornets took over from their own 16-yard line, down by 15 with 7:26 to play.
The Hornets unexpectedly punted on their last possession with just five minutes to play, and the Panthers were able to run down the clock to finish the game with a 30-15 victory.
Liberty Hill’s backfield has recently been plagued by injuries, but Coach Vance preached his confidence in the players that have had to step up due to those injuries after the game.
“We’ve finally got some kids that have played enough for the injured kids that they’re comfortable,” Vance said. “They’re playing at the level that we’d like for them to play at.”
The Panthers will play Canyon Lake Nov. 11, as they lost to the Taylor Ducks on Friday. Despite the higher stakes, Coach Vance said preparation for Liberty Hill’s playoff game won’t change, in comparison to the regular season.
“Same stuff,” Vance said. “Consistency is what we do. We’re not going to change anything. We’re going to run the same thing on offense, we’re going to run the same thing on defense. Practice schedule is going to be the same. Business as usual.”