Liberty Hill-Burnet rivalry renewed in playoff game
By Lauren Jette
Liberty Hill will see a familiar shade of green Friday night in a bi-district matchup with longtime rival Burnet at Gupton Stadium in Cedar Park.
The District 14-4A champions will take on the Bulldogs in the post-season for the second year in a row.
“It’s nice to be 5-0 and being the district champions going into the bi-district. Getting to play Burnet is…that’s just one of those scripts,” said head coach Jerry Vance.
“If you’re writing a TV show, you’re either going to be writing them first or at the last like we were last year. You couldn’t write it out any better.”
Last year, the Panthers bested the Bulldogs in the regional final, 23-15, at Kelly Reeves Stadium in Round Rock.
Burnet and Liberty Hill used to be in the same district until the most recent UIL alignment, which put the two rivals in neighboring districts.
“Coach (Kurt) Jones and I both have a lot of respect for each other and what each program does,” Vance said.
“The history goes back a long way and we knew when we saw the UIL realignment that we would probably play in the post-district type stuff. Just another step in the rivalry, another step in the game.”
Burnet took the last playoff spot in District 13-4A behind La Vega, China Spring and Gatesville, with a 6-4 record, 2-3 in district, with losses to those three district teams.
Common opponents the Panthers share with the Bulldogs include Fredericksburg, Taylor and Abilene Wylie. Burnet defeated the Billies 28-16 and the Ducks 55-35 on the road, and lost at Wylie 43-23.
In district action, the Bulldogs allowed 146 points over five games, while the Panther defense limited opponents to just 59 points.
Both teams are fairly close in total yards per game (almost 400), with Burnet having the slight edge.
Burnet running back Brock Foster leads the team with an average of 39 rushing yards per game, while quarterback Austin Moore averages 314.3 yards per game, all passing.
The greatest distinction between the two teams is in yardage, as Burnet racks up almost all of its yardage on passing, while Liberty Hill’s yardage comes off the run.
“Same old Burnet. Nothing different. They’re very big up front, they throw the ball all over the place, they’ve got two tremendous receivers and a little ole’ running back who is not big, but boy, he’s quick,” Vance said.
“(Moore) throws the ball very accurately, he’s a big kid, quick release. It’s what they’ve always done. From what we’ve seen from the films we’ve traded, it’s just exactly what they did last year and the year before that and the year before that, kind of like us,” Vance said.
Panther fans shouldn’t expect a drastically different game plan to stop the Bulldogs in this matchup.
“I really thought the one last year worked out pretty well when we beat them,” Vance said.
“Whatever we need to do to win. You always change (the game plan) simply because the kids change and teams change from year to year. You have to approach it differently year to year. Your kids are good at different things from what they did last year.”
Now that Liberty Hill is facing the Bulldogs in the playoffs, Vance doesn’t think the outcome of the game is any different from any other opponent.
“It doesn’t make any difference if you play Burnet or any other team. The thing that’s meaningful about it is if you don’t win, you gotta come home and start your offseason,” Vance said.
“Put everything up and start over. If you win, you get to keep going and get more time with your young kids and get more reps because you can work them out along with the varsity.”
Now that the Panthers have entered the “third” part of their season, Vance sees a shift in players’ attitude towards game preparations.
“(Monday) was the first workout (after district) and there was a lot of hoopin’ and hollarin’ and a little pep in their step, it was a little cooler out there and their attitude seemed to have changed a little bit,” Vance said.
“It’s now we get to play and if we win, we get to play again. They understand it’s a privilege now.”
The winner of Friday night’s game will take on the winner of the Gonzales/Grulla game.
Gonzales has a 4-7 overall record, but went 4-1 in district. The Grulla Gators out of Rio Grande City have a 4-5 record, 2-2 in district.
Tickets to Friday’s renewed rivalry are on sale Thursday and Friday at the field house from 7:30-11:30 a.m. and 1-4 p.m., and in the high school cafeteria 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. The pre-sale prices are $3 for students and $5 for adults or $6 for all ages at the gate.
Panther Cheerleaders are also encouraging everyone to wear black on Friday to “Black Out Burnet”.
John Gupton Stadium is located at 200 Gupton Way in Cedar Park. Seating capacity is 10,200.