Panthers find success up the middle

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Liberty Hill quarterback Garrett Wright hands the ball off to Jon Shannon against La Grange in Week 1. The trap play was Liberty Hill’s best weapon in the loss. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Liberty Hill quarterback Garrett Wright hands the ball off to Jon Shannon against La Grange in Week 1. The trap play was Liberty Hill’s best weapon in the loss. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By SEAN SHAPIRO

It’s hard to decipher Liberty Hill’s offense.

For opponents used to preparing for quick-moving, pass-heavy offenses, the Slot-T offense is a throwback that can confuse and disorient defenders.

Need proof?

Take a look at the Panthers track record under Jerry Vance, where they’ve won seemingly more games than passes completed.

So, if there’s a silver lining after a Week 1 loss to La Grange, Liberty Hill’s success running the ball, particularly with fullback Jon Shannon.

Liberty Hill rushed for 222 yards on 54 carries, while Shannon carried the ball 30 times for 158 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Most of Shannon’s yards came on the fullback trap, a designed run where the guard pulls and quickly opens a hole for the fullback to drive through.

“They couldn’t figure that out, and they couldn’t find the ball,” Vance said.

But, how efficient will the trap work against Brenham on Friday?

The Cubs got caught up in the scheme last season. Liberty Hill went to Brenham and racked up 49 points in a 49-47 victory, with a missed extra point and failed 2-point conversion by Brenham being the difference in the game.

It was a shocker for a Class 5A team that played for the 2013 state championship. A team, that perhaps, had overlooked Liberty Hill with its small-school status.

“They won’t be as surprised this season,” Vance said. “They know what we did to them last season.”

And the defense could be Brenham’s strength early on this season, even if the Cubs let up 35 points last week against Houston Lamar.

Brenham returns eight defensive starters from 2014, including defensive lineman Khevon Shepard, a trendy preseason pick for District 19-5A’s defensive MVP.

He’s joined on the defensive front by DeJuan Ramirez and Marquez Bimage, a pair of all-district selections that are looking to make up their performance against Liberty Hill in 2014.

Brenham also returns rangy linebacker Dillon Thieleman, while defensive back Deon Earls is strong in run support — a must-have for any team playing against the Slot-T.

“We don’t have a lot of film on them, but they look similar to last season,” Vance said. “They still operate out of the 4-3, but can go to the 50 front we saw last week against La Grange.”

While Liberty Hill would love to rely on the trap, the reality is Shannon will need some help in Week 2.

Garrett Wright, Freddie White, Gage Fulps also had carries in Week 1, but Vance said he expects each of them to improve in Week 2.

“I think we’ll see more out of everybody in Week 2,” Vance said. “We had a real good practice on Monday and they had the right attitude after the game.”

Offensively, Brenham will have a different look than 2014.

The Cubs return just three starters on the defensive side of the ball, and most of the weapons that gashed Liberty Hill have since graduated.

“They don’t have that big receiver anymore, or that running back,” Vance said. “But we know they’ll still be a talented team.”

Truman Sweed has stepped in as the go-to running back for Brenham after backing up Earnest Patterson. Sweed will get the ball in a variety of ways, and will spearhead coach Glen West multi-faceted offense.

While it didn’t show last season, Brenham boasts a talented special teams unit.

The Cubs have an athletic group that can get down field and cover kicks, while kicker Tien Pham recovered from his miss against Liberty Hill and earned second-team all-state honors from the Texas Sports Writers Association.

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