By KEITH SPARKS
DRIPPING SPRINGS — Liberty Hill Head Coach Jeff Walker said the 2017 Boerne Greyhounds would be the best team he’s ever faced in the first round of the playoffs, and they proved him right on Friday. After multiple rounds of overtime, the bi-district playoff matchup between Boerne and Liberty Hill seemed like it might never end. Eventually, it did, and it ended with the Panthers on the better end of a 50-48 ballgame after three overtime periods.
The game started out in Liberty Hill’s favor, as Ethan Thom returned an interception 10 yards for a touchdown for the first points of the game with 5:53 left in the first quarter to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
On Boerne’s next possession, quarterback Brooks Klutts was sacked by Liberty Hill’s Grant Supak for a loss of 22 yards, forcing the Greyhounds into a fourth and 25 scenario, which they wisely punted on.
The Panthers’ ensuing possession looked much more promising, as fullback Hunter Oncken found room to run for a 32-yard touchdown featuring a powerful stiff arm at the 5-yard line, but it was called back due to a hold, and the Panthers were forced to punt after quarterback Brenden Ketchem was sacked on third down.
The Liberty Hill defense showed up in a big way early in the second quarter, nearly recording a safety on two occasions. On second down, Klutts threw an ill-advised pass over the middle as he was attempting to escape the safety, which was almost picked off by Wyatt Cheney but fell incomplete. On third down, the Panthers had another opportunity for a safety, but Klutts was able to get rid of it once again, this time sailing the ball over the head of his receiver, who was being smothered by Cheney, and the Greyhounds were forced to punt.
Liberty Hill started with great field possession, setting up from the opposing 46-yard line. A couple of first-down runs by Ketchem and Jakob Schofield set Kyle Harrison up for a 33-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 14-0 lead with 5:59 left in the second quarter.
Cheney continued his defensive showcase on Boerne’s next possession, diving to knock the ball out of a Greyhound receiver’s hands on third and 10 during what would have been a routine first-down catch. Once again, the Greyhounds were forced to punt.
A number of runs up the middle, the highlight being a 20-yard run from Oncken, moved the Panthers into enemy territory before halftime. Harrison took off for a 16-yard touchdown run following Oncken’s setup, but another Liberty Hill touchdown was called back because of a holding penalty. It wouldn’t matter, though, as Oncken took off for another big-time run, this one for 17 yards. Harrison followed that up with another touchdown run, but this one would count to put the Panthers up 21-0 with 1:31 left in the second quarter.
The Greyhounds were unable to get much going on their final possession of the first half, ending with a sack for a 17-yard loss by Liberty Hill’s Marcus Grimm to take the game to halftime at 21-0 in favor of the Panthers.
For most of the season, the Panthers have struggled in the third quarter. The playoffs would have been a solid opportunity to reverse that trend, but alas, it continued.
Klutts tore apart the Panther defense with his passing game on the Greyhounds’ first possession of the half, leading to a 1-yard touchdown run to make it a 21-7 game with 5:38 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers fumbled almost immediately once they got the ball back, and the Greyhounds made them pay. In an all too familiar scenario, the 21-point lead the Panthers held at halftime had been reduced to 7 just minutes into the third quarter, following a 24-yard touchdown pass from Klutts to Connor Fisher, a duo whose names seemed to be on repeat over the loudspeaker in the second half. With 4:35 left in the third quarter, the Panthers led 21-14.
Liberty Hill would be forced to punt on their next possession, giving Boerne the ball at their own 12-yard line. The Panther defense had the Greyhounds against a wall on second and 17 from their own 4-yard line, but Klutts found Fisher for two huge gains in a row, leading to a 12-yard touchdown run by Boerne’s Ryan Hart to tie the game at 21-21 with 10:27 left in regulation.
After going scoreless in the dreaded third quarter, the Panthers were able to get back on track in the fourth, alternating between Harrison, Schofield, and Elijah Davis in the backfield. A couple of big runs from Schofield put the Panthers in scoring position, but the Greyhounds wouldn’t let them in easily. The Panthers were forced to make a decision on fourth down and 1 to go with just over three minutes left in a tied playoff game. Trusting in what’s had gotten them to that point, the Panthers went with a run, and Harrison scored again from the 1-yard line to give the Panthers a 28-21 lead with 3:05 left to play.
Klutts continued to tear the Panther defense apart late in the fourth, making a 75-yard game-tying drive look easy. Fisher and fellow receiver Paul Amick made big catch after big catch, each getting out of bounds to stop the clock when necessary. Liberty Hill’s Brady Brewer nearly ended the game with an interception at the goal line, but an offsides penalty gave Boerne the ball back and a first down. A Panther sack and fumble, recovered by the Greyhounds in the backfield, made it third and 15 for Boerne, but an untimely penalty on the Panther defense made it a bit more manageable at third and 5 with 55 seconds left from the opposing 22-yard line. Klutts found Amick with a beautiful throw over his shoulder for the game-tying touchdown to make it 28-28 with 50 seconds left.
A few unsuccessful runs by Liberty Hill with no timeouts left for either team sent the game into overtime. High school overtime in Texas is much like college overtime, with each team getting an opportunity to score from the opposing 25-yard line.
On Boerne’s very first play of overtime, Klutts found his favorite target once again, as Fisher reeled in another 25-yard touchdown catch to put the Panther offense in the hot seat, down by 7 with their season on the line.
The Panthers lost Ketchem to an injury late in the fourth quarter, forcing them to go with backup quarterback Chris Neill. Davis got loose for a big-time first down run to put the Panthers in good position, but the 2-yard loss that followed put the Panthers in a tough position. On third and 12, Neill ran for a 5-yard gain, making it fourth and 7 on a possession where the Panthers needed to score or their season would come to an end. While most teams would pass in this situation, Panther fans know better. Harrison would get the call on fourth down, running to the outside for the absolute minimum gain the Panthers could have possibly afforded. The officials brought out the chains, and Harrison had completed the first down by mere centimeters. Schofield followed up with a 2-yard touchdown run, and the extra point by Michael Shipley tied it at 35-35.
The Panthers’ second possession of overtime went much smoother, starting with a big run from Harrison. A horse collar penalty on Boerne put the Panthers in even better position, and Harrison followed up with another touchdown from 2 yards out to give Liberty Hill a 42-35 lead, but Boerne would have a chance to answer.
Klutts would muff a snap on first down, making it second and 13 for Boerne, but he remained collected. He was eventually able to find an open receiver in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown pass to tie it once again, and the game would head to a third overtime, tied at 42-42.
In the third overtime, both teams must attempt a two-point conversion instead of an extra point, making it a bit more difficult to score.
On what looked like a replay of their first overtime possession, Klutts found his receiver on the very first play for a 25-yard touchdown pass. On the two-point conversion, however, Cheney came up big for the Panther defense with a huge stop at the 1-yard line on a pass completion, and the Greyhounds would have to settle for six and a 48-42 lead.
Davis, who had fallen mostly out of rotation in the Panther backfield due to Harrison’s recent dominance, was given the opportunity to answer for Liberty Hill, and answer he did. From 12 yards out, Davis showcased his speed for a rushing touchdown to tie it. Walker rewarded him with yet another opportunity, this time to attempt the two-point conversion. Davis found room on the outside and waltzed in untouched to win the game by a final score of 50-48.