Liberty Hill falls to Navasota in Class 4A, Division I semifinals

Tanner Vrabel recovers a fumble. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Tanner Vrabel recovers a fumble. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By Bob Varmette

WACO – The Liberty Hill Panthers played a flawless first half offensively against the Navasota Rattlers. The question was whether they could keep it up.

They couldn’t – and after a three and out on their first drive of the night, the Rattlers unleashed their offense and rallied from a 14-0 deficit to oust the Panthers 49-26 Friday night in a Class 4A Division I semifinal at McLane Stadium.

Navasota, which advances to meet Argyle next weekend for the state title, was every bit as good offensively as advertised.

“It’s real simple – that’s a great football team over there,” Liberty Hill coach Jerry Vance said. “They’re very talented and they’ve got everything they need to win a state championship. … We just got beat by a better team.”

Shelton Eppler, the Rattlers’ junior quarterback, tossed six touchdown passes and finished with 462 yards passing. All this after a first quarter where he was 0-of-1 for 0 yards.

Sammy Blair and Jerbrell Lipscomb, not the celebrated Tren-Davian Dickson, were the receiving stars for the Rattlers (15-0), who victimized the Panthers (12-3) seemingly at will after the first 12 minutes.

Lipscomb caught three balls for 169 yards and a touchdown. Blair finished with three catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns.

“They were taking Tren’Davian Dickson away and it’s great that he broke the national record at the stadium where he’s going to be playing at in his future, but when they were taking Tren’Davian away we were able to go to our back side and Sammy Blair had a heck of a night,” Navasota coach Lee Fedora said. “Jerbrell had a heck of a night. You have that much athleticsm – it helps you become a better football team.”

But the Rattlers also got a huge assist from their defense. After being pounded relentlessly by the Panthers run game in the first half, Navasota shut out Liberty Hill in the second half.
After giving up 234 yards rushing in the first two quarters, the Rattlers allowed just 66 yards in the second half. After compiling 16 first downs in the first two quarters, the Panthers got just four in the final two quarters.

“They didn’t make any adjustments – it was just us not executing,” Liberty Hill senior center Colton Hall said. “That’s our fault. It was just us not staying on our blocks. That’s what it comes down to – you’ve got to stay on your blocks, every time.”

The Panthers got exactly the start they wanted. They drove 74 yards in 14 plays and ate up 5 minutes, 59 seconds of first-quarter clock; Hunter Lindsay capped the drive with a 2-yard run for a 7-0 Liberty Hill lead.

Then they got the defensive start they wanted – getting the Rattlers to go three and out on their first possession, which was their only possession of the first quarter.

Navasota finished the first quarter with just two yards of total offense. They ran a total of three plays, not including the punt.

The Panthers went up 14-0 with 10:46 in the second quarter on Nick Hernandez’ 15-yard sneak up the middle. The run culminated a 13-play, 73-yard drive that, in typical Liberty Hill fashion, took 5:53.

And then the offensive show was on, with the two team combining to score 40 points in the first half. The Rattlers continued the show in the second half; the Panthers couldn’t.

“We just weren’t doing what we were supposed to do in the second half,” Liberty Hill junior tailback Caleb Guerin said. “It was just the whole team. We just didn’t get it done in the second half.”