Panthers gearing up for rival Burnet

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Panther fullback Hunter Oncken (#46) hurdles a Badger defender during Friday night's 27-16 win over Lampasas. Oncken finished with 88 rushing yards on 16 carries. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Panther fullback Hunter Oncken (#46) hurdles a Badger defender during Friday night’s 27-16 win over Lampasas. Oncken finished with 88 rushing yards on 16 carries. The Panthers face arch rival Burnet at 7:30pm Oct. 21 at Panther Stadium. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

The Longhorns have the Sooners, the Yankees have the Red Sox, the Lakers have the Celtics, and the Panthers have the Bulldogs.

One of the great Texas high school football rivalries takes place on Friday, as the Liberty Hill Panthers take on the Burnet Bulldogs.

The winner of Friday night’s game will leapfrog the other in the district standings, as the Bulldogs share the same 1-1 district record as Liberty Hill. Burnet holds a 6-1 record, overall, with their only loss coming to the China Spring Cougars.

The Bulldogs throw the ball more than anybody the Panthers have played this season. Their quarterback, senior Koby Edwards, has thrown the ball 191 times so far, completing an impressive 120 of them. He’s thrown for 1,548 yards and 17 touchdowns while throwing only three interceptions. He holds an outstanding 111.3 quarterback rating on the season.

Panthers’ Head Coach Jerry Vance credited the long-standing rivalry to the intimacy the two cities share, explaining that Burnet and Liberty Hill are intertwined now more than ever, with relationships, jobs, and other interactions.

“Our kids know each other so well,” Vance said. “We’re 24, 25 miles apart. Their kids date our cheerleaders and our guys date their cheerleaders. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody here works over there and they work over here, so there’s a lot of interaction.”

Coach Vance also mentioned that a lot of the energy surrounding the rivalry has more to do with the parents that have seen years and years of competition between the two cities, rather than the players making it out to be a game that’s more important than the rest.

“I think a lot of the hype comes from the adults more than it does the kids,” Vance said.

According to Coach Vance, the matchup has been pretty even over the years, aside from the teams in the early 2000s that featured former Texas Longhorn, Cincinnati Bengal, Tampa Bay Buccaneer, and Jacksonville Jaguar Jordan Shipley, who played wide receiver at Burnet from 2001 to 2003. His father, Bob Shipley, was the Bulldogs’ head coach. That team also featured Stephen McGee at quarterback, who went on to start at Texas A&M and play as a backup for the Dallas Cowboys.

“’01 and ’02 we just got slaughtered,” Vance said, “because they had Jordan Shipley and McGee. They just…they slaughtered us. They had a tackle that went to Arizona State. They were a very talented bunch of kids. Shipley, the dad, did a real good job and boy, they just handled us.”

More recently, the games have been evenly matched, although Liberty Hill has taken the last three matchups.

In 2015, Liberty Hill beat the Bulldogs 47-28. In 2014, Liberty Hill won 23-15, and in 2013, Liberty Hill won 14-7. Burnet’s last win against the Panthers was in 2012, which they won 44-36.

“We’ve gone back and forth,” Vance said. “Every year, it hasn’t been us getting killed by them, or them by us. When we play, it doesn’t make any difference what the records are. Kids are going to play hard, and coaches are going to play hard. We’re going to shake hands and smile at each other when the game’s over.”

Coach Vance expects this year’s game to be no different, explaining that each team has its respective strengths and weaknesses that, if exploited, can change the course of the game.

“They do some things real well that we have some trouble with, and we do some things well that they have trouble with,” Vance said. “They throw the ball real well. They’ve got a great little back, number 23, that’s really fast. When he came out for track, their mile relay got good enough to go to the state track meet by the addition of him. It’s going to be fun. Our misdirection always gives them problems.”

Coach Vance, who has seen his fair share of high school rivalries over the years, ranks the Burnet – Liberty Hill game as one of the best. He mentioned legendary matchups like Midland Lee and Odessa Permian, the subject of “Friday Night Lights” the book and motion picture, in comparison.

“It’s a great high school rivalry for the state of Texas,” Vance said. “I’ve been part of the one down in Gregory-Portland, and Calallen was pretty intense while we were there. Go back to the Midland Lee and Permian stuff, back in the day. It’s a good high school rivalry.”

As he’s said all year, the key for the Panthers going into Friday night’s game against Burnet will once again be ball control.

“It goes back to what we always do,” Vance said. “We’ve got to keep the ball. We’ve got to hold on to the ball and limit the number of possessions they have and score when we have the ball. I think that’s going to be the biggest key, is us controlling the ball and moving the ball, and keeping them off the field.”

The Panthers will look to distance themselves from the Bulldogs in the district standings on Friday night at Panther Stadium. The game will start at 7:30 p.m.

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