By KEITH SPARKS
AUSTIN — Following a loss to the Port Lavaca Calhoun Sandcrabs last week, the Panthers looked to get back to their winning ways with a rare Thursday night game in Austin against the Anderson Trojans on September 28. Rain began to come down right around kickoff, and it refused to let up until midway through the fourth quarter.
Although Head Coach Jeff Walker didn’t buy the excuse of rain causing fumbles, it sure seemed to be the case as the Panthers’ coughed up an uncharacteristic five turnovers during their 35-20 victory over the Trojans, most of which came in the second half, allowing Anderson to remain within striking distance throughout the contest.
The Panthers started off with the ball at House Park Stadium in downtown Austin, and drove it deep into Trojan territory on their first drive, but were forced to settle for a field goal on fourth down. The snap was fumbled, and the Trojans gained possession at their own 10-yard line following the Panthers’ first turnover.
On the Trojans’ first play of the game, running back Coy Fullmer took it 90 yards to the house to take a 7-0 lead with 5:56 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers’ second drive of the game was typical of Liberty Hill, consisting of short run after short run, ultimately ending in an 8-yard touchdown run by fullback Ethan Thom. Michael Shipley missed the extra point, and the score was 7-6 in favor of the Trojans with 50 seconds left in the first quarter.
After forcing Anderson to punt, the Panthers were able to capitalize thanks in large part to the performance of running back Kyle Harrison, who had a 25-yard run followed by a 17-yard touchdown run on the drive. The Panthers’ two-point conversion was no good, so they held a 12-7 lead with 7:06 left in the second quarter.
After forcing another Anderson punt, Harrison was able to punch in another touchdown run, this one from six yards out, followed by a successful two-point conversion from Jakob Schofield to make it a 20-7 game in favor of the Panthers with 4:16 left in the second quarter.
Anderson was forced to punt once again, and the Panthers once again capitalized on a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brenden Ketchem to Harrison for his third touchdown of the game. Schofield’s two-point conversion was good for the second time, and the Panthers held a 28-7 lead heading into halftime.
The Panthers struggled to hold on to the ball in the second half, starting with a fumble by Schofield in the backfield on their first possession of the third quarter. Anderson capitalized with a 19-yard touchdown pass, making it a two-possession game at 28-14 with 7:09 left in the third quarter.
On the Panthers’ next possession, Elijah Davis was stopped on fourth down, giving the ball back to the Trojans. They completed a 38-yard pass that looked like it would be a touchdown, but the receiver was downed at the 1-yard line, and the Trojans fumbled their next snap. The Panthers recovered and avoided a touchdown that would have made it a one-possession game.
Harrison got the Panthers out of dangerous territory with a 43-yard run, followed by a 15-yard touchdown run by Thom to give Liberty Hill a 35-14 lead with 2:05 left in the third quarter.
After forcing Anderson into a turnover on downs, the Panthers fumbled once again, but Wyatt Cheney was able to intercept a pass almost immediately, giving the ball back to the Panthers.
Senior receiver Reece Hudson caught a pass on the Panthers’ ensuing possession, but fumbled into the end zone from the 1-yard line after a 72-yard gain to give the Trojans the ball back at their own 20-yard line.
Brady Brewer intercepted a pass shortly after the Trojans gained possession, but Liberty Hill fumbled at the 1-yard line yet again to cap off a sloppy back-and-forth effort by both teams late in the game.
Fullmer scored again for the Trojans late in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late, and the Panthers would hold their 35-20 lead through the final whistle.
Harrison led the Panthers offensively with 210 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and 21 yards and a touchdown through the air for a total of 231 yards and three touchdowns. Thom finished with 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Schofield finished with 95 rushing yards, and Ketchem finished with 93 passing yards, a passing touchdown, and 47 yards on the ground.