LHHS prepares for unique match with Canyon Lake’s Slot-T

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By Keith Sparks

The Panthers face a unique situation Friday night against Canyon Lake.

It’s a well-known fact that the Panthers’ strength is their Slot-T offense, confusing opponents each and every week with misdirections and ball fakes rarely seen in high school football. Only a handful of other teams in the state run the Slot-T, and Canyon Lake is one of them.

According to Liberty Hill Head Coach Jeff Walker, playing against his own offensive scheme is less than ideal.

“I hate it,” Walker said. “It’s the most miserable week in the history of football for me.”

One of the most difficult aspects of facing the Slot-T is that in order to stop it, the Panthers would be showing the rest of the state how to stop it, too, giving each of their playoff opponents valuable film to study beforehand. Thankfully, though, Friday’s game has zero playoff implications for the Panthers, considering they have the district championship locked up.

“In our situation, we don’t have to win this game,” Walker said. “We’re district champs. Other than us getting to practice again and getting better, doing some things we need to do to get better, it does nothing for us. My struggle is always if you show people how to stop it, then they’ve got it on film to stop you. It’s really a fine line on how you play it. Somebody stops you, and they say, ‘Well, hell, we’re going to try to duplicate what they did to stop it.’”

Panthers’ Defensive Coordinator and Jeff’s brother, Kent Walker, isn’t as concerned about the details surrounding how they’ll approach the Hawks defensively. In his mind, it will simply come down to which team is tougher.

“We’re going to play defense,” Kent said. “To me, how you stop the Slot-T is it just becomes like a tough-man contest. It’s about seeing who the tougher team is, so we’ve just got to come out and play physical, be more physical than them, and I think we can take care of business. If we come out and do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be fine.”

Although both coaching staffs will trot out the Slot-T offense, they each have their unique approaches to the game. Jeff said one of the major differences between his offense and Canyon Lake Offensive Coordinator Troy Moses’ will be the different formations that the Hawks use prior to the snap.

“Just the alignment, formations, they do a lot of different formations,” Jeff said. “We don’t play the formation game as much. We try to play out of one set. They get into a lot of different formations and different kinds of sets, which I guess is the biggest thing. They’ll get into different formations, but they’ll still run the same things we do.”

While they won’t pull out all the stops in a game that doesn’t have any playoff implications, Kent said he will make a few adjustments, defensively, to slow the Hawks down, the most obvious being that he’ll have more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage, instead of back in coverage like they typically are against a spread offense.

“Obviously, we’re a 3-4, but we won’t look like a 3-4 on Friday night,” Kent said. “There will be some changes. There will be some stuff that we do differently, but we’re still going to play defense the way we know how to play. We’ve got a few different ways to play it, but we’ll obviously have a few more people on the line than we would in a 3-4.”

Offensively, both teams have to deal with an opponent that knows the ins and outs of the Slot-T, making the misdirections and ball fakes significantly less effective than they are against unsuspecting opponents. Although Jeff said he has some tricks up his sleeve that he thinks would work against the Hawks’ defense, he doesn’t plan on using them.

“There are some things you can try to do to trick them here and there, but I’m not into tricking, so we’re going to go pretty basic and just try to get better at what we do,” Walker said. “Obviously, there’s always wrinkles here and there, but nothing earth-shattering.”

Defensively, Kent said it should be easier for the Panthers to stop the Slot-T than it would be for a defense that rarely sees it, but on the other hand, Canyon Lake has the same advantage.

“I think it does, as opposed to being a defense who didn’t grow up playing against it,” Kent said. “Preparing for the Slot-T is difficult, regardless, because you don’t see it. Canyon Lake does a good job running the Slot-T. They’re not just a thrown-together Slot-T. They do a great job coaching there, so it makes it difficult. What does help is our kids know the Slot-T, so that does help us, but then again it plays into Canyon Lake’s favor, as well.”

As if the situation weren’t already strange enough, there’s another wrinkle to Friday night’s matchup. Liberty Hill’s Wide Receiver Coach, Hiram Drum, is the brother of Canyon Lake’s Head Coach, Charles Drum. Jeff said he trusts his assistant coach, but admitted it’s a strange situation nonetheless.

“It’s just an interesting dynamic coaching against your brother,” Walker said. “I’ve never had to do it, but if my brother were the head coach, I’d still want to beat him, and I think that’s Coach Drum, but it is a weird dynamic.”

Those that know the Panthers know that they’d never throw in the towel, but it’s clear that a virtually meaningless win isn’t worth giving potential playoff opponents the recipe for stopping the Panther offense.

“We want to win it, but it’s not an end-all be-all,” Jeff said. “That kind of scares you as a coach, when you’ve won the district and this game doesn’t mean anything going into playoffs, other than a practice, but you still want to win.”

Fans of high-octane quarterback battles would be hard-pressed to find a less interesting matchup than Friday’s between the Hawks and Panthers, but for the rest of us, it will be one of the most unique matchups in the country.

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