Panthers look to replicate 2014 area game against familiar opponent

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Running back Jon Shannon (#22) powers his way into the end zone during the Panthers’ bi-district win over Burnet last week. Shannon ran for 131 yards and two touchdowns in his return from a wrist injury. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Running back Jon Shannon (#22) powers his way into the end zone during the Panthers’ bi-district win over Burnet last week. Shannon ran for 131 yards and two touchdowns in his return from a wrist injury. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By Lauren Jette

The road to the state championship is the same as it was last year, but two rounds into the playoffs, Liberty Hill’s opponents are all too familiar.

After dispatching rival Burnet in the bi-district round last week, the Panthers will have another area rematch against Gonzales, the team they beat last year 45-27.

The Panthers will meet the Apaches at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Canyon Lake High School, 8555 RM 32 in Fischer. Liberty Hill is the home team.

The Apaches scalped Rio Grande City Grulla 26-21 last week.

Liberty Hill head coach Jerry Vance is hoping for a repeat of last season’s performance.

“I hope at the end that we have more points than they do,” Vance said.

“We’ll do what we do and try and control the ball and keep ourselves ahead of the chains. If we do that, then we’ll be okay.”

Gonzales is led by quarterback Tyler Hendershot, who has 583 passing yards with three touchdowns and 9 interceptions and 521 yards on 107 carries and 8 touchdowns.

Running back Alyas Ramirez is also a threat, with 953 yards on 129 carries and 11 touchdowns.

“(Last year) was the first year for Coach (Kodi) Crane and this is his second, so the longer you’re there, the more established your program becomes,” Vance said. “They’re a multiple offense, they do a lot of things with unbalanced looks that could put you in a bind if you don’t pay attention. (They have a) real good running back, real fast receiver. You start getting into these rounds and there’s not anybody that are slouches, they’re all pretty good.”

On paper, this week’s game may not seem like much of a matchup, with the Apaches sporting a 5-6 record against the Panthers’ 9-2, but Gonzales’ record doesn’t tell the whole story of its season.

“It is misleading and the other thing is if you just look at records, you go ‘oh, they may not be that good,’” Vance said.

“But the fact of the matter is, the five teams that beat them in pre-district are all in the playoffs and still playing, so that says a lot about them. Strength of their schedule and ability to play with those people, yeah, that says a lot.”

Gonzales started the season by getting shut out by Giddings (28-0), before losing at Cuero 35-7, against Navarro 47-14, at Yoakum 24-22 and at Bellville 29-7.

Once District 15-4A action started, however, the Apaches went 4-1, only losing to La Vernia, 17-0, to claim the second place playoff spot.

In a bi-district win over Grulla, Gonzales scored all of their points in the first half, and then had to fight off a slow, but steady comeback from the Gators, who scored in each of the last three quarters. Running back Ramirez scored three touchdowns, including a 96-yard missed field goal return.

In last season’s matchup, the Panthers effectively shut down the rushing option for the Apaches, who used three quarterbacks throughout the game, but didn’t muster enough offense to top Liberty Hill. Running back Jon Shannon amassed 247 yards on 27 carries and scored a touchdown, while the offense totaled 489 yards on 63 attempts.

The winner of Friday night’s matchup at Canyon Lake will take on the winner of the Waco La Vega versus Rockport-Fulton game.

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