By KEITH SPARKS
Prior to Friday night’s game against Brownwood, Liberty Hill Head Coach Jeff Walker said the Panthers wouldn’t face another offense as explosive as Brownwood’s. Less than a minute into the first quarter, the Lions proved him right.
With 11:08 left in the first quarter, Brownwood quarterback Tommy Bowden found Adonis McCarty for a 60-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead.
On the Panthers’ first drive, they proved their offense can be just as explosive. Liberty Hill running back Kyle Harrison quickly found room to run, gaining 70 yards on the ground to the opposing 8-yard line. After another run up the middle to the 1-yard line, Brenden Ketchem found the end zone on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to tie the game at 7-7.
Neither team’s next drive was as impressive as the first, as Brownwood’s ended in a turnover on downs in Liberty Hill territory and the Panthers’ ended in a punt.
On their ensuing possession, Brownwood receiver Nic Salazar caught a 40-yard pass, but fumbled at the 1-yard line. He was able to pick up his own fumble, and Brownwood capitalized on a 1-yard touchdown run by Gavin Jefferson to take a 14-7 lead with 1:23 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers were able to answer quickly, as Liberty Hill running back Hunter Oncken took off for 78 yards to the opposing 5-yard line, after which Ketchem scored on another 1-yard quarterback sneak to tie the game at 14-14 with 36 seconds left in the first quarter.
Brownwood’s next possession started out promising, as Salazar caught a 30-yard pass into Panther territory, but they were once again stopped on fourth down for a turnover on downs after Bowden was sacked by Liberty Hill’s Ethan Thom.
Liberty Hill countered with another rushing touchdown, this time from Elijah Davis. Davis’ 4-yard touchdown run was set up by a 37-yard run from Oncken that got Liberty Hill deep into Brownwood territory. After Davis’ touchdown, the Panthers held a 21-14 lead with 8:17 left in the second quarter.
Liberty Hill was able to force yet another turnover on downs on the Lions’ next possession, and the Lions found themselves 0 for 3 on fourth-down conversion attempts.
On the very first play of Liberty Hill’s next drive, Oncken found room once again and took it to the house on a 37-yard touchdown run to put the Panthers up 28-14 with 6:37 left in the second quarter.
After a short drought, Brownwood regained their explosiveness as running back Cain Kitrell found the end zone on a 59-yard run. Brownwood’s kicker missed the ensuing extra point, making it a 28-20 ballgame in favor of Liberty Hill with 4:54 left in the second quarter.
Two minutes later, Liberty Hill followed up Brownwood’s touchdown with one of their own. After converting on fourth down to keep the drive alive, Oncken powered through the defensive line for a 35-yard touchdown run to take a 35-20 lead with 2:34 left in the second quarter.
One minute later, Brownwood’s Jefferson showed the speed he’s known for with a 59-yard touchdown run of his own, followed by a successful two-point conversion to make it a one-possession game once again at 35-28 in favor of the Panthers with 1:27 left in the first half.
On the Panthers’ next possession, Oncken broke loose once more, this time for 50 yards before being dropped at the 15-yard line. Davis followed up quickly with a 15-yard touchdown run on a pitch to the outside to give the Panthers a 42-28 lead, which they held through halftime.
On Liberty Hill’s second drive of the second half, the Panthers fumbled on a run up the middle, giving Brownwood the ball back and giving Jefferson an opportunity to take off for a 38-yard touchdown run. With 5:31 left in the third quarter, the Panthers held a one-possession lead at 42-35.
Liberty Hill was forced to punt for the second time in the third quarter on their third possession of the half, giving Brownwood an opportunity to tie the game, but the Panther defense stood their ground and forced the Lions into a third and long, which ended with an incomplete pass, thanks in large part to a solid pass rush by the Liberty Hill defensive line.
On the Panthers’ first possession of the fourth quarter, Ketchem found Mason Ogle for a 46-yard reception on a rare deep pass by Liberty Hill, which Harrison followed up with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Down 56-42, Brownwood had the ball deep in their own territory, but they were able to make it a one-possession game once again with a 75-yard passing touchdown to Salazar, which made it a 56-49 ballgame.
With 2:30 left in the fourth quarter, Harrison found room to run for a 38-yard touchdown to give the Panthers a 63-49 lead.
With 2:13 left to play, the Lions had the ball in Panther territory after a big kickoff return that gave them a chance to stay within reach, but the Liberty Hill defense forced a fumble, crushing any hope at a comeback for Brownwood.
For good measure, Oncken scored once more on a 33-yard rushing touchdown with 19 seconds to play, and the Panthers were up 70-49, a score they’d hold until the final whistle to bring their season record to 2-0.