Panthers’ fate dependent upon final district game vs Gatesville

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Panthers’ wide receiver Carson Landry (#25) catches Liberty Hill’s lone touchdown of the evening against China Spring. The Panthers’ loss leaves them with a 2-2 district record, and 5-3 record overall. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Panthers’ wide receiver Carson Landry (#25) catches Liberty Hill’s lone touchdown of the evening against China Spring. The Panthers’ loss leaves them with a 2-2 district record, and 5-3 record overall. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

Last Friday night, the upcoming Liberty Hill versus Gatesville game became a lot more interesting. This Friday, the Panthers’ fate lies in their own hands.

A loss to the Cougars last week means that the Panthers are now fighting for their season. A win against Gatesville guarantees the Panthers a playoff spot, while a loss doesn’t necessarily mean they’re out. However, a loss would take the power out of Liberty Hill’s hands, as they would be forced to wait on the results of Burnet’s game against Waco La Vega.

The only scenario that has the Panthers missing the playoffs is if they lose against Gatesville and Burnet beats La Vega, which, based on each team’s performance thus far, is unlikely. However, if both the Panthers and the Bulldogs lose, that would put Liberty Hill, Burnet and Gatesville all at 2-3 in district play, which, according to Liberty Hill Head Coach Jerry Vance, has caused a bit of controversy regarding the final playoff spot going to Liberty Hill.

“There’s some controversy about that right now,” Vance said. “If you’re the number five guy looking in, you want to make sure that you’ve exhausted all your avenues to make sure that you’re not going to be number four. If things fall the way they should fall, there will not be a big problem.”

Since Liberty Hill holds the tiebreaker over Burnet, due to the Panthers’ previous victory over the Bulldogs, a Liberty Hill win ensures a playoff spot, regardless of what happens elsewhere in the district. The fact that Gatesville has even the slightest chance at a playoff spot means they’ll be fighting with a sense of desperation, as well.

“We’ve got to play our best game we’ve played all year,” Vance said. “Gatesville’s coming in and they’re going to play for their lives. We’ve just got to take care of our business, and everything else shakes out for everybody.”

Coach Vance is using the upcoming playoff scenario as a motivator for the Panthers during this week’s practices. They know that they control their own fate on Friday night, and the more focused they are in practice, the better shot they have at making the postseason.

“We had a real good workout yesterday (Monday),” Vance said. “We had a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of movement, things like that. Obviously, I’m going to put that stuff out in front of them, and tell them, ‘We’re in playoff mode now, and we have to win to keep playing.’ Our kids responded real well yesterday, but today’s a new day. Kids are kids, and they wake up in a different world sometimes.”

Gatesville is 1-3 in district play so far this season and 4-5 overall, putting them right behind Liberty Hill and Burnet in the district standings. Although they’ve had a subpar district performance, they have averaged more than 30 points per game during district play.

“They’ve got a really, really good running back,” Vance said. “He’s a kid that’s real fast. They have a good quarterback, probably very similar to China Spring’s kid, but maybe not as fast; same type of build and same type of ranginess. He throws the ball fairly well. It’s going to be a fight for sure.”

The Panthers will play the Gatesville Hornets on Friday night, with their season depending on it, at Panther Stadium at 7:30 p.m. for their last regular season game of 2016.

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