Liberty Hill advances with 51-0 win over Glenn
By Scott Akanewich
Minutes before kickoff at Panther Stadium on Friday night, a thick blanket of fog descended over the field as Liberty Hill was set to host Glenn in a Class 5A opening-round playoff contest, making it difficult for spectators to see what was unfolding in the game’s early moments.
However, even after it lifted midway through the first quarter, it was the Grizzlies who were left in a daze after a 51-0 defeat at the hands of the Panthers.
At the outset, though, it seemed as if the visitors would give the home side a run for its money as the first quarter ended with the Purple-and-Gold up by only a 7-0 score on a five-yard touchdown run by senior Bryant Amsler after an earlier 20-yard scoring run by Blake Simpson had been nullified by a holding call.
In fact, penalties plagued the Panthers early on in the proceedings as they were hit with a pair of holding infractions, as well as a false start and a chop block in the opening period.
Throw in pair of false start call on the Grizzlies on back-to-back plays on their final possession of the quarter and it would explain the period’s pedestrian pace.
Once the second 12 minutes got underway, Liberty Hill began to take hold of the game.
After a Glenn punt saw the Panthers’ offense take over at their own 21-yard line, Simpson took a handoff on the second play of the series and rumbled 74 yards for a touchdown to make it a 14-0 game, but the Panthers were only getting started.
When the Grizzlies were forced to punt again the next time they had the ball, Blake Wilson broke in and disrupted the kick to the point it traveled only nine yards, giving the Panthers’ offense the ball on the Glenn 23.
This time, it took only a single play to convert the blunder into points when senior quarterback Charlie Calabretta called his own number and sprinted past the defense for a 23-yard scoring run and a 21-0 advantage with nearly 10 minutes left in the half.
When Glenn got the ball back, it wasn’t for long, as Grizzlies quarterback Tony Holland coughed up a fumble which was recovered by Panthers linebacker Andon Thomas, putting the Liberty Hill offense back in business at the Glenn 22.
After shorts runs by Trey Seward, Amsler and Simpson, Calabretta plunged in from a yard away to make the score 28-0.
Liberty Hill’s defense continued to plunder Glenn and on the Grizzlies’ next possession, Thomas recovered yet another fumble, from which Simpson scored on a four-yard run only four plays later for a 35-0 lead with 6:14 left until halftime.
Glenn continued to test the Panthers’ secondary with passes, but were unsuccessful, with most of them falling to the ground incomplete, although roughing-the-passer and pass-interference calls against the Panthers extended the next Glenn drive before ultimately having to punt regardless.
On Liberty Hill’s final possession of the half, it was the Panthers who took to the air, as Calabretta first hooked up with Nate Hilbrich on a 21-yard pass before hitting Seward with a 39-yard scoring strike, which left the score 42-0 at the half.
At the outset of the third quarter, Thomas continued to run roughshod over the Grizzlies, with a sack of Holland in the end zone for a safety, which was added to by Seward’s second touchdown of the evening, a 1-yard run six minutes later to close out the scoring before a scoreless fourth quarter.
The occasion marked Liberty Hill’s first game since the passing of former head coach and athletic director Jeff Walker, with brother and defensive coordinator Kent Walker taking over both posts on an interim basis.
Afterward, Walker was somewhat lost for words in describing the emotional journey he had been on with the events surrounding his brother’s death, as well as getting the team ready for a playoff game.
“I really don’t know how to explain how I feel right now,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to get a win, but I still feel numb. I don’t think I’ll ever get over Jeff not being around anymore, but we came together as a team tonight.”
Calabretta acknowledged the gravity of the situation.
“The last two weeks have been long and emotional for us,” he said. “We’re going to continue to use Coach Walker as motivation.”
Simpson led Liberty Hill with 132 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns, while Seward had 14 attempts for 76 yards and a pair of scores and Amsler – in his first-ever varsity start – 10 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown.
Calabretta scored a pair of rushing touchdowns on five carries for 62 yards and completed 3-of-3 passes for 67 yards.
Seward caught one pass for 39 yards, while Hilbrich had two receptions for 28 yards.
Defensively, the Panthers have now posted five consecutive shutouts, with the last points the units surrendered a touchdown in the waning moments of the Del Valle game on Oct. 2 and Calabretta is impressed with what he sees from his mates across the line of scrimmage.
“They’re great,” he said. “I’ve never seen a defense which is so motivated – I’ll take those 11 guys anytime.”
Walker – who is the orchestrator of the Liberty Hill defense – completely credits the players who go out onto the field with his marching orders for all the success this season – although he did shine the spotlight singularly on his middle linebacker.
“We just have great kids,” he said. “But, when you have an Andon Thomas out there, it’s like having another coach on the field – I can’t say enough about him.”
Up next for Liberty Hill (9-0) is a meeting with Boerne Champion, who finished second in District 15, with an overall record of 7-2, along with a 4-1 league showing.
The Chargers defeated Edcouch-Elsa, 56-19, in another first-round contest on Friday to set up a date with the Panthers, with a day and time yet-to-be determined.
Despite the fact Champion will represent quite a step up in competition level from Glenn, Calabretta is confident he and his teammates will be more than a match for them, he said.
“Yeah, it’s going to be a challenge,” said Calabretta. “But, they’ve never seen the Slot-T and they’ve never played Liberty Hill.”
Walker said his squad must keep the emotional edge they have at the moment in the proper perspective.
“We need to continue to play with emotion,” he said. “The game of football is emotional, but you need to be able to harness it.”
As for his brother’s memory on this night, Walker was certain his brother would’ve been proud – although that was never the former coach’s goal, he said.
“Jeff always used to tell our players to make themselves proud – that it wasn’t about him,” said Walker. “But, tonight, I think they did make him proud – I know he was looking down on our coaches and kids.”