Liberty Hill beats Manor, 38-12
By KEITH SPARKS
MANOR – Panthers get off to slow start, roll in second half to beat 5A Manor Mustangs 38-12
Despite the fact that they were matched up against a much bigger 5A opponent on Friday night, the Panthers seemed to be the favorite against the Manor Mustangs in their territory. As it turned out, those that favored the Panthers were right, as Liberty Hill slowly built upon their lead that ended in a 38-12 victory.
The Mustangs struck first with a passing touchdown from junior quarterback Matthew Hill to receiver Jayden Moore, but failed to convert the extra point, giving them a 6-0 lead early in the first quarter.
Manor had a physical advantage at just about every position, trotting out multiple 6’4”, 200-plus-pound athletes on defense, which stifled the Panther offense for much of the first half. A Panther offense that typically gets hot quickly and doesn’t look back had a tough time getting anything going, but were able to piece together a solid follow-up drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Kyle Harrison to take a 7-6 lead.
Both defenses made life hard for the opposing offenses for the majority of the first half, forcing multiple punts, missed field goals, and turnovers on downs, but a well-executed play fake eventually allowed Liberty Hill quarterback Jacob Cearley to waltz into the end zone untouched from 22 yards out to give the Panthers a 14-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Panthers forced another punt, giving them an opportunity to score again before halftime, but Cearley left a pass attempt short and gave up an interception late in the second quarter. Fortunately, Panther defensive back Trey Seward got the ball right back with an interception of his own shortly afterward.
At halftime, the score was 14-6 in favor of the Panthers, who struggled offensively in comparison to what Liberty Hill fans are used to seeing. Liberty Hill Head Coach Jeff Walker credited the Mustangs’ size and athleticism for making the Panther offense work so hard for points in the first half.
“They’re athletic, I mean, look at ‘em,” Walker said as he motioned toward a massive Mustang defender walking across the field after the game. “We don’t match up to that. We have to use our speed, play under the cage, and do some of that. It was a road trip, and we just didn’t come out with the fire and the fight that I know we’re capable of doing.”
The second half featured a Panther offense more like the one fans are used to seeing, as each touchdown was scored by a different offensive player, including second-half scores by Shane Gonzalez, Reid Sanders, and Blake Simpson.
Sanders’ touchdown came after a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown by Harrison was called back due to a block in the back, Gonzalez’s came as a dagger with six minutes left to put the Panthers up 31-12, and Simpson’s came to put the nail in the coffin with just over two minutes left. Kicker Mason Shipley also chipped in a 17-yard field goal earlier in the fourth quarter to give the Panthers some breathing room, followed by a timely interception by Matthew Montes.
Next week, the Panthers face Pflugerville Connally for homecoming in their last non-district game of the season before taking a week off before district play begins. Walker said only time will tell whether or not their pre-district schedule against strictly 5A teams has adequately prepared the Panthers for district play.
“Only time will tell, but the As don’t mean much in high school football,” Walker said. “We’ll see. I think we’re getting better in some spots, I think we’ve got a lot of improvement to do in spots to be a great football team, but I think we have potential. You know what they say about that, though, potential means you haven’t done anything, yet. Our kids fight, they play hard, they love playing the game, and they’re fun to coach, but we just need to continue to get better.”
Next Friday, the Panthers will play Pflugerville Connally at Panther Stadium for homecoming at 7:30 p.m. The win over Manor gives Liberty Hill a 2-1 overall record.