LHHS back on winning track after beating Badgers 27-16 behind Wright’s huge night

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Senior linebackers Cody Burns (#42) and David Allman (#31) take down the Badgers’ ball carrier. The Panther defense held Lampasas’ high-powered offense to just 16 points last Friday. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Senior linebackers Cody Burns (#42) and David Allman (#31) take down the Badgers’ ball carrier. The Panther defense held Lampasas’ high-powered offense to just 16 points last Friday. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

LAMPASAS — The Panthers faced a Lampasas Badgers team last Friday that averaged close to 40 points a game, scoring as many as 68 earlier in the season. Liberty Hill quarterback Garrett Wright had what was arguably his best game of the year, rushing for 156 yards and three touchdowns on the ground on just nine attempts.

“Garrett’s always been a leader,” Liberty Hill Head Coach Jerry Vance said. “He threw the ball twice right on the money, and our receivers just didn’t catch the ball. They were giving us some things that we took advantage of. They weren’t following the quarterback with our fakes, and when we ran him they let him keep the ball and he made some big plays on crucial downs.”

Lampasas’ first drive of the game started out strong, as Badger quarterback Cohen Cockburn found success both through the air and on the ground. However, Panthers’ senior defensive end Carter Ware put an end to it emphatically with a huge sack to bring up 4th and 16, forcing the Badgers to kick a field goal and take a 3-0 lead.

On the Panthers’ first possession, sophomore running back Reid Sanders made his presence known immediately. Sanders was able to carry the ball at least 4 or 5 yards seemingly every time he touched it in the first quarter. After being called for two holding penalties on runs that would have been first downs, the Panthers were on their heels at the 28-yard line before Sanders broke free for his first touchdown of the evening on a 28-yard run, giving Liberty Hill a 7-3 lead.

Sanders was able to take advantage of Lampasas’ smaller defenders all night, averaging more than 6 yards per carry and finishing with 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. In fact, the Panthers’ entire backfield was able to take advantage. Junior fullback Hunter Oncken finished with 88 yards on 16 carries, and senior running back Freddie White finished with 39 yards on 11 carries. The Panthers finished with 384 rushing yards as a team.

After forcing the Badgers to punt on their next possession, the Panthers took over from their own 12-yard line. With a daunting 88-yard field ahead of them, Liberty Hill began to do what they do best. They ran the football. After a number of runs up the middle and important third-down conversions, Wright scored his first of three touchdowns, all of which were 36 yards long. Shipley’s extra point was blocked, so the Panthers held a 13-3 lead with six minutes left in the second quarter.

On their last possession of the first half, the Badgers were able to confuse the Panther defense, getting their receivers open looks in the end zone on multiple occasions. Lampasas junior wide receiver Brandon Pierino found himself wide open in the end zone, but dropped an easy look. Seconds later, senior wide receiver Nathan Keese found himself in the same situation and was able to capitalize. The Badgers missed the extra point, resulting in a 13-9 lead for the Panthers, which they held going into halftime.

On the Panthers first possession of the second half, Wright scored his second rushing touchdown of the evening after completely fooling the defense with a misdirection play fake to one of his running backs, allowing him to get to the end zone virtually untouched. The Panthers held a 20-9 lead with 8:50 left in the third quarter.

Liberty Hill was called for a questionable pass interference penalty on the Badgers ensuing possession, giving them a first down and a huge gain on a desperation pass attempt. What resulted was a 34-yard passing touchdown by Cohen Cockburn of the Badgers to reduce the Panther lead to 20-16.

Entering Friday night’s contest, Lampasas averaged almost 40 points per game. The Panthers’ defense, however, was able to hold the Badgers to just 16 points, though Coach Vance said that had just as much to do with the Panther offense keeping possession of the football.

“I think a big part of it was our offense,” Vance said. “We had three series in the first half. We should have scored on all three, but we slipped on the grass. In the second half, we scored on the first two or three, and we kept the ball away from them, but our defense came up huge with a couple fourth down stops.”

After allowing some wide open looks in the first half, the Panther secondary finished the game with what might have been their best performance of the season, batting down multiple passes in the fourth quarter that would have otherwise been touchdowns. Junior cornerback Bryce McCatty, senior safety Logan Hester, and senior cornerback Dyllon Joiner each made huge plays for the secondary, knocking the ball down on deep pass attempts that could have given the Badgers the lead. Coach Vance praised McCatty’s performance, specifically.

“We had a young man (McCatty) that we hope had a coming-out party,” Vance said. “The secondary played very well, but we dropped three interceptions. One could have gone back for a touchdown very easily. It’s nice to be in those positions to make those kinds of plays, but I think probably what’s more important and impressive to me is that even when they did catch the ball, we made tackles. We stopped them right there. People nowadays are going to catch. They’re going to throw it and catch it, so you’ve got to prevent the big play. You’ve got to make the stop. It’s nice to see the secondary mature.”

With the Panthers still up 20-16, Wright put the game out of reach with his third 36-yard rushing touchdown of the game with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. The Panthers went up 27-16 after Shipley’s extra point, which would end up being the final score after McCatty broke up yet another deep pass on the Badgers’ final possession of the game.

The Panthers are now 1-1 in district play and 4-2 overall. They’ll play arguably the most-anticipated matchup of the season against the Burnet Bulldogs this Friday night at 7:30 at Panther Stadium. The Bulldogs hold a 1-1 district record, as well, and a 6-1 record, overall.

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