Panthers fall to Bulldogs
By BOB VARMETTE
For The Independent
ABILENE – It was playoff football in September.
The Liberty Hill Panthers didn’t come away with a win, falling 27-19 Friday night to the Abilene Wylie Bulldogs in nondistrict, But they got a taste of what they hope for the future and found out they belonged.
“If you want to win a state championship, you’ve got to play and beat teams of Abilene Wylie’s caliber and the program that they have,” Liberty Hill coach Jerry Vance said. “They had a great effort and we finally got to where we could hit and play with these people, and we didn’t have to stand there and take it like we did in the first quarter.”
In a game between teams likely to play well into the postseason, the Bulldogs (3-2) and Panthers (3-2) got battle tested for their respective district schedules. And early, it appeared as if Wylie appeared more ready to pass the test.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter. They led 21-6 at halftime. They had 12 first downs to just three for the Panthers. They had 110 yards just through the air.
Then it all turned around.
Wylie coach Hugh Sandifer knew it would.
“We knew how tough Liberty Hill would be,” he said. “We knew they would get it going. They’re well-coached, they’re a good team and we knew it was just a matter of time.”
Time was on the Panthers’ side in the third quarter. They owned it, allowing the Bulldogs’ offense on the field for just four plays.
The Panthers cut the deficit to 21-13 on Logan Barnes’ 1-yard run with 4:41 in the third. The defense got the stop they needed and Liberty Hill narrowed the gap to 21-19 on Jon Shannon’s 1-yard run with 8:20 in the game.
The Bulldogs responded with a 49-yard hook-and-lateral play, with Jaxson Money catching a 14-yard pass from quarterback Tyler Ward and then making a perfect pitch to Clay Johnson, who went the final 35 yards to put Wylie up 27-19.
“We were beating ourselves,” Liberty Hill senior quarterback Nick Hernandez said. “We weren’t focusing and we weren’t carrying out our assignments. But at halftime we just said we’ve got to be tough, we’ve got to be hitting harder.”
Save for one play, the first half was dominated by the Bulldogs – offensively and defensively.
The one success for the Panthers offensively came on Caleb Guerin’s 62-yard run to the right boundary. It was the only play on Liberty Hill’s only scoring drive, and its only offensive threat, of the first two quarters.
Guerin’s 62-yard jaunt down the right sideline was two-thirds of the Panthers’ 93 yards of total offense in the first half. Liberty Hill had just three first downs and never scrimmaged from the Wylie side of the field.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, had considerable offensive success, totaling 221 yards of offense, and getting a pair of scores of from Cary, who ran for Wylie’s first score and connected with senior wideout Ryan Daniell on a 33-yard completion on fourth down that put the Bulldogs up 14-0 with 1:11 in the first quarter.
Liberty Hill cut the lead to 14-6 on Guerin’s touchdown, and was hoping for a shift in momentum that would carry into the second half. The shift was reversed almost immediately – on the ensuing drive by Wylie, Johnston capped a 78-yard drive with a 51-yard scoring run to send the Bulldogs into the half with a 21-6 lead.