Liberty Hill defense holds strong against Canyon Lake

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Canyon Lake senior quarterback Sklyer Tschoepe (#12) is stopped in the backfield by junior Liberty Hill linebacker Colton Cunningham (#34). The Panthers’ defense gave up only 14 points to the Hawks, the fewest points they’ve allowed this season in a 19-14 District 14-4A Division I victory Friday at Panther Stadium. (Kathy Canady photo)

Canyon Lake senior quarterback Sklyer Tschoepe (#12) is stopped in the backfield by junior Liberty Hill linebacker Colton Cunningham (#34). The Panthers’ defense gave up only 14 points to the Hawks, the fewest points they’ve allowed this season in a 19-14 District 14-4A Division I victory Friday at Panther Stadium. (Kathy Canady photo)

By BOB VARMETTE

Liberty Hill coach Jerry Vance wasn’t wrong earlier this week when he said his team wouldn’t take the Canyon Lake lightly.

The Hawks, in fact, are a very good football team.

It took the Panthers defense to preserve a 19-14 win Friday night at Panther Stadium in the District 14-4A Division, Division I opener for both teams.

After Derek Dallis recovered an onside kick and Canyon Lake drove to the 14-yard line, the Liberty Hill defense stiffened. And on fourth down senior Jason Reeves knocked away a Skyler Tschoepe pass intended for Evan Schuller.

“I’ve watched these games for a long, long time, and you really have to throw out all those scores from before,” Vance said. “They’re big kids and they’ve got a bunch of juniors so they’ll be someone to reckon with next year.”

But this year, the Hawks (2-4, 0-1 District 14-4A Div. I) came up just short in their challenge to beat a program they want to model themselves after in Liberty Hill (4-2, 1-0).

Coach Charley Drum said during the week he hopes the Hawks will have the success of the Panthers in a few years. They challenged the Panthers – the team Drum calls the district favorite – and they all but owned the ball in the fourth quarter. But in the end, 14 yards separated them from a very big victory for their program.

“They’re really good, on both sides of the ball,” Drum said. “But we answered some questions here tonight. I’m really proud of our kids. We had a chance to win this game at the end.”

Liberty Hill went up 19-7 on Hunter Lindsay’s 66-yard run with 8 minutes, 6 seconds left in the game. But Canyon Lake responded with a 17-play, 75-yard drive that consumed 5 minutes, 35 seconds to cut the Panthers’ advantage to just five points, 19-14.

Twice the Hawks converted fourth-down plays during the drive, including a fourth-and-17 from the Panthers 35-yard line. Two plays after converting their second fourth down, Canyon Lake’s Hayden DuBois ran it in from the 1-yard line.

Canyon Lake kicked off from the Liberty Hill 45 after the Panthers were assessed a 15-yard penalty following the Hawks’ touchdown. With everyone expecting an onside kick, the Hawks pulled it off anyway, with Dallis recovering the ball at the Panthers 34 with 2:31 left in the contest.

Canyon Lake moved to the Liberty Hill 14, but the yards came hard. The Hawks again had to convert a fourth down before being faced with their final fourth down, which the Panthers turned away.

“That’s what you have to have,” Vance said. “They’d been throwing that little old pass and we finally had somebody break on it and knock it out of the way. Jason did a wonderful job.”

Here’s how close the game was: Liberty Hill outgained Canyon Lake 333-332. The Hawks rushed 55 times for 212 yards and gained another 120 through the air; the Panthers picked up 305 yards on 39 attempts and had 28 yards passing.

Both teams had additional opportunities for points, but both defenses came up with stops when they needed them.

It didn’t look that way at the start. The Panthers marched 53 yards in 11 plays, taking 5:05 off the clock, scoring on Nick Hernandez’s 29-yard quarterback sweep to the left.

The Panthers had another scoring chance on their next drive, getting to the Canyon Lake 24-yard line before the drive stalled and a 39-yard field goal attempt by Lucas Rizzotto fell short into the southerly breeze with 1:43 in the first quarter.

The Hawks tied at it 7-7 on Tschoepe’s 16-yard pass to Schuller with 50.7 seconds in the first half. That drive came a drive after the Panthers turned away the Hawks on fourth-and-2 at the Liberty Hill 15-yard line.

“I’m really happy with how our kids played,” Drum said. “We played hard. But we’ve got to produce points when we’re in the red zone.”

The Hawks, just as Vance had said, were not a team to be taken lightly.

“Anytime we start out with a win in the first district game, it’s a very positive thing,” Vance said.

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