Panthers expect Badgers to bring A-game on Homecoming

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By KEITH SPARKS

Following a frustrating loss to number two state-ranked Waco La Vega on Oct. 13, the Panthers will look to bounce back in their Homecoming game against the Lampasas Badgers on Friday.

The Badgers currently hold a 1-5 overall record, 0-1 in district play, but the Badgers are a more dangerous team than their record would have most people believe. The Badgers’ lone win came against Waco Robinson, who they beat by a final score of 67-62 in their highest-scoring game of the season, by far. If this season’s performances are an accurate portrayal of their abilities, Lampasas is a team with an offense that has the potential to burn any given defense.

According to Head Coach Jeff Walker, their offensive explosiveness comes from an athletic running back in senior Sean Williams and an uber-confident freshman quarterback under center in Ace Whitehead.

“They run a spread with a really good running back,” Walker said. “He’s a short young man, really fast, I think he was in the finals of the 100-meter dash last year. Real fast, real strong, strong powerlifter, real stocky, short, fast, fast kid. Quarterback is a freshman, so he played in the eighth-grade last year. He’s got more swagger than most kids you see on the football field. He’s got just a real confidence about him. They deke and dunk, have four good receivers, a good running back, and a quarterback that can get them the ball.”

So far this season, Whitehead has thrown for 1,529 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air while throwing only five interceptions on 188 pass attempts and 122 completions. Williams leads their rushing attack, having carried the ball 132 times on the season en route to 860 yards and six touchdowns, averaging more than 143 yards per game.

Their defense, on the other hand, has the potential to be burned by any given offense. In six games, the Badger defense has given up 27 points to Fredericksburg, 62 to Robinson, 52 to Wimberley, 49 to Lorena, 35 to Canyon Lake, and 49 to Gatesville.

Despite their defensive struggles, Walker isn’t taking their defense lightly.

“Defensively, I’d say they run to the ball real well, and they’re pretty physical kids,” Walker said. “What they do defensively gives us some problems, so it’s going to be a good challenge. Defensively, they’re a ‘bend, don’t break’ kind of team.”

On Friday, Oct. 13, Lampasas’ first district competition ended with a 49-13 loss to Gatesville, who’s ranked sixth in the state at the 4A level, according to Max Preps.

“Gatesville big played them and got up on them quick, then they were up on them 42-7 at half, then it seemed like Lampasas kind of woke up and played the rest of the game pretty well,” Walker said. “I just think they’re kind of young in spots on defense, but we’re going to have to play a good game.”

Even though the Badgers hold the worst overall record in the district, Walker anticipates facing a better team than some they’ve faced so far this season, naming Austin Anderson in particular.

“I think they’re better than Anderson, and I think they’re better than some of those other teams that we’ve played,” Walker said. “They haven’t won many games, but they’ve had a pretty tough non-district schedule.”

Coming off of a district-opening loss to La Vega, Walker called Friday’s game against the Badgers a “must-win” for the Panthers, considering the talent level of their future competition within the district.

“This one’s a must-win,” Walker said, “because if we don’t beat Lampasas, we’re not going to beat China Spring, we’re not going to beat Gatesville. Gatesville beat them 49-13, so if we don’t win this one, it’s going to look tough for us, and the kids are aware of that. I think we’ll have a good showing Friday night. I think we’re going to come out a little pissed off. I know the coaches are going to come out a little mad, because we’re still hurting. A lot of it’s because we feel like we didn’t help them enough. You get into the coaching business to help kids, and I feel like I hurt them on Friday night, so it’s wearing on me a little bit, but what do you do? You go back to work. We can’t look back. We’ve just got to look forward and keep going.”

For those that think Lampasas will be a pushover, Walker recommended looking back at last year’s game between the Panthers and Badgers, during which the Badgers remained within striking distance late in the final quarter.

“I know people think, ‘Well, it’s Lampasas, so we’re going to beat them,’ but I keep telling the kids that last year it was 20-14 late in the fourth quarter, so we can’t overlook somebody like that,” Walker said. “They’re scary enough and do enough good things that you can look around and they could be up 14-0.”

The key, according to Walker, is to take a big lead early in the game, pinning Gatesville’s win over the Badgers last week as the blueprint for success.

“They’re a scrappy football team that, if we let them hang around, they’re going to hang around and it’s going to get scary,” Walker said. “We’ve got to go in there and take care of our business and do what Gatesville did and put them away early. If we don’t put them away early, it could get tough.”

The Panthers know they can’t afford to suffer a second straight loss to start district play, but so do the Badgers. In a district that holds three of the top 10 teams in the state, an 0-2 start is a death sentence for teams hoping to make a deep playoff run.

“They don’t want to be 0-2,” Walker said. “Just like us, we can’t start the year 0-2. In our district, you can’t do that. Lampasas knows if you lose to us and you lose to Gatesville, it’s going to make it pretty tough, because then they’ve got to beat La Vega and China Spring. I’m sure we’ll see every kind of halfback pass and every other trick play they can pull out to see if they can upset us. Hopefully, we’ll be prepared.”

Friday’s matchup with the Badgers will be Liberty Hill’s Homecoming game, the scheduling of which typically comes against the most beatable competition within the district to maximize the likelihood of coming away with a win. With that in mind, nobody wants to be scheduled as another team’s Homecoming opponent.

“No doubt about it, and I told our kids that, there’s no doubt about it,” Walker said regarding whether or not Lampasas will take Homecoming personally. “I can promise you all week they’re using it to piss their kids off, talking about, ‘You’re Homecoming.’ You don’t ever want to be the Homecoming team. There’s no doubt that we’re going to get the best Lampasas game, and that’s ok. We want the best Lampasas game. I’m more worried about us and distractions. We have a pep rally Wednesday evening, we have Thursday’s pep rally at the intermediate. We’ve got to stay focused on what we need to do and not the ‘rah-rah’ of Homecoming. I’m more worried about our focus and not what they’re telling them.”

The game will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20 at Panther Stadium.

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