Liberty Hill falls to La Grange in season opener
By Taylor Grafft
The Liberty Hill Panther Football team fell in their season opener at Panther Stadium on Friday night to an athletic and strong La Grange team, 24-7. The Leopards were State Semifinals last season and finished with an 11-1 overall record.
The loss is the Panthers’ fourth straight in season openers since 2010 and second straight in the new Panther Stadium since it opened in Fall 2013.
Despite the loss, Liberty Hill had a lot of positives from the game to take away. With the game out of reach in the third quarter, Coach Jerry Vance had the opportunity to sit his starters and evaluate some of the younger players in Friday night game action.
The Panthers’ offense also looked more balanced than previous seasons as Coach Vance was true to his preseason words that they would throw the ball more throughout this season. That held true as the Panthers’ lone touchdown of the night came late in the fourth quarter on an 86-yard pass by backup quarterback Garrett Wright to Caleb Guerin. Earlier in the game, starting quarterback Nick Hernandez completed two passes on six attempts for 55 yards.
Liberty Hill came into their season opener as a top-ranked team in the state in many polls. Coach Vance was well aware their non-district schedule would be no cakewalk with opponents like La Grange, Class 5A Brenham, Brownwood, Waco Connally and Abilene Wylie. Those tough non-district opponents will no doubt prepare the Panthers for their district schedule and postseason when it really matters.
La Grange has two players that are considered future Division I athletes. Class of 2017 running back KJ Dobbins has drawn interest from schools like Baylor, Florida State, and Texas so far in his young high school career. Senior running back Bralon Hutchison, who also plays wide receiver for the Leopards, has offers from Duke, Houston, Nevada, New Mexico, and North Texas.
Those two backs shredded the Panthers’ defense in the first half and played big roles in the reason Liberty Hill found themselves trailing 17-0 at the half.
In the second half, the Panthers’ defense stepped up big and held La Grange to only a touchdown.
The most costly errors the Panthers made on Friday night were penalty yards and turnovers. Whether it was long touchdown runs that got called back, or fumbles inside the red zone, Liberty Hill couldn’t seem to catch a break or get any luck—especially in the first quarter when most of the damage was done.
All 17 of the Leopards first half points came in the first quarter. Dobbins opened the scoring for La Grange after just 48 seconds with a 33-yard touchdown run.
It was Dobbins scoring again, with 6:16 minutes left in the first quarter, when he took the Leopards out of the shadow of their own goal line and finished with a 98-yard touchdown run.
La Grange added a long 47-yard field goal with just over three minutes left in the quarter to increase their lead to 17-0. The Panthers defense held on in the second quarter and forced turnovers and three-and-outs to take that deficit into halftime.
La Grange scored their final touchdown in the third quarter after they extended their offensive drive after converting a fake punt for a first down. This time it was Hutchison who scored on an 11-yard scamper up the middle following a penalty on Liberty Hill.
The Panthers finally got on the scoreboard with 3:43 remaining in the game after Garrett Wright hit Caleb Guerin who was wide open on the sideline for a long touchdown pass.
Liberty Hill falls to 0-1 overall to start the season and plays away in Brenham on Sept. 5.