PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Quarterback Cearley taking leadership role
By Lance Catchings
Junior quarterback Jacob Cearley is preparing to lead his team to the state championship this week on a date that he admitted was already circled on his calendar.
“100 percent, this is where we thought we would be,” Cearley said. “During the offseason, we worked for this moment. All we thought about was working hard and getting better each week to try and make it to State. Our team has bonded greatly throughout this season. During the offseason, we all bonded on how hard we needed to work during football this year. We just kept grinding the entire year and we all came together close. We are all one big family, and we mean that when we say it.”
In the State Semifinal win over Carthage, Cearley went 3-4 for 44 yards passing and carried eight times for 63 yards and a touchdown. Facing one of the State’s biggest powers in Carthage, Cearley said he just focused on the game, not the opponent.
“Heading into the Semifinal, we just approached it like another game,” he said. “We knew they were good with their 40-0 winning streak. At the same time, they were beatable, and we knew that going in. We went in confident that we could beat Carthage. Every time we came out on the field, we knew we had to score points. We’ve been working for these games all throughout the season and getting better in each practice. We just simply went out there and executed what we practiced.”
Cearley loves playing the quarterback position, and he has shown this season that he can toss the ball with accuracy, but said he would never trade what he has with his teammates, even for a role with more passing opportunities.
“Another thing about playing quarterback that I love is the leadership that I have,” he said. “I help control the huddle, the offense and the guys surrounding me. They look up to me and want me to lead them, so I get the pleasure of doing that as well. Throwing the ball is fun and I love to do it, but I would rather lead my team to victory running the Slot-T than passing the ball on every play.”
Cearley has had success running ball this year, breaking off for runs of 45, 47, 63 and a season-high 66-yard scamper during district play. He broke a 40-yarder against Carthage, but says it was all because of his teammates.
“When I see wide open field, I give the credit to my teammates,” he said. “I know it is because my running backs are carrying out their ball fakes. I know when I see open field, they are getting tackled and that is where all the defenders are. I am just grateful I have a chance for my team to just go try to score for us. When I run the football, I try to get first downs as much as I can. If I can get a first down for my team when it is fourth and short, you just have to go get it. I just want to do what I can to help my team keep drives alive.”
As the Panthers prepare to take on Waco La Vega this Friday in the State Championship, Cearley and his teammates have a certain calm about them.
“As a leader, everyone just has to stay focused this week,” he said. “We have to approach it like another game. Yes, the game will be on television and in the biggest stadium we have ever played in, but after that, it is just another football game. We want to go out and execute and finish what we’ve started by grinding so hard throughout the season. We just need go out and execute. We need to have no turnovers in the game, and we know La Vega can cause turnovers.”
Cearley also credited the seniors on the team for pushing them further than they thought they could go.
“The senior class this year has been unbelievable,” he said. “They are all leaders and have been leaders for me when I was coming up. As a quarterback, they have helped me along the way, and I took some things from them and started helping other guys. They have all been outstanding teammates and I am very lucky to be on this football team with all of them.”
Cearley has gone to Cowboys games since he was a young child and said it will be a dream come true to take the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“It is a dream come true to lead my team to the State Championship game,” he said. “Ever since I was little, I would look on the field, and I told my mom that one day I would play there. Now, that dream is coming true and I just thank God for this opportunity for myself and my team.”
The Liberty Hill Panthers will face Waco La Vega Friday at 3 p.m. at AT&T Stadium for the 4A Division I State Championship.