Panthers overwhelmed by Hutto, 42-14

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By Scott Akanewich
Sports Editor
Jacob Cearley found himself in an unfamiliar place late in the fourth quarter of Liberty Hill’s home-opener against Hutto on Friday night.
Dropping back into the pocket and looking for a receiver downfield.
Which is what it came down to for the home side in a 42-14 loss to Class 5A Hutto.
After the Panthers’ vaunted running attack had been completely shut down by a physical Hippos defense for the entire game, the Liberty Hill offense was forced to go to the air only with the same results.
Nothing.
However, the visitors had no such issues.
Hutto scored on the opening possession of the game when senior running back Mekhi Kimble finished off a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 15-yard scoring run for a quick 7-0 lead with 8:44 remaining in the opening quarter.
But, less than a minute later, the Panthers offense broke from its huddle, sprinted to the line of scrimmage and what happened after that was quite remarkable.
Cearley took the snap, faked a handoff and then Nash Robinson was free in the Hutto secondary on a 49-yard sprint for a score to even proceedings at 7-7, while confused Hippos defenders were left standing and looking around not knowing where the ball was thinking the play was over.
Unfortunately, that was one of the few bright spots on the evening for the Purple-and-Gold.
Kimble outraced everyone on the field for an 88-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7 with 1:51 left in the first quarter and it was full-speed ahead from that point for the visitors.
The only other scoring the Panthers could muster on the night was a 43-yard fumble return by senior defensive lineman Hadley Weems to even the score at 14-14 with 4:47 left in the first half, but that was the last time Liberty Hill would be on level terms.
Jairiez Lambert hauled in a 20-yard scoring strike from sophomore quarterback Grayson Doggett to give the Hippos a lead they would never relinquish at 21-14 with only 0:52 until halftime.
Liberty Hill’s offense was limited to 96 yards on 16 carries in the first half, as Robinson led the way with 44.
But, it was a far cry from the amount of real estate head coach Jeff Walker’s squad is accustomed to piling up.
Trey Seward racked up 116 yards on 14 carries, but Blake Simpson and Robinson were limited to 39 and 44, respectively, for the game.
Hutto added another 21 points in the second half, highlighted by a Kimble 95-yard run which all but killed off the game.
Walker was despondent in the aftermath at how his team had performed.
“It’s probably the worst showing I’ve ever had in my entire career,” he said. “They’re a big, physical team and we struggled to move the ball against them, but we had some chances we couldn’t take advantage of.”
The Panthers committed five turnovers on the game, but Walker said that wasn’t to blame.
“It’s not an excuse,” he said.
Still, his team was only down by a single score at the half, but the fact the Panthers failed to put points on the board after receiving the second-half kickoff troubled Walker, he said.
“We came out, got the ball and needed to score,” said Walker. “But, we couldn’t protect our quarterback.”
The fact his offense was finally able to move the ball the length of the field late in the game was no solace to the Panthers’ sideline boss.
“We can’t wait until the fourth quarter to start moving the football,” he said.
Despite the setback, Walker believes his team will successfully put it behind them.
“We’re going to learn from this and move on,” he said. “No pity for us, we’re just going to go back to work because we don’t have an easy one next week, either.”
Indeed, the Panthers will host another Class 5A school in Manor next Friday, which will present another challenge for his team, but that’s all part of the plan, he said.
“We know what we’re going to get when we play these bigger schools,” said Walker. “But, at the same time, you don’t want to come out and get beat like this – it’s frustrating.”
Walker was quick to place the blame square on himself for the defeat.
“The team is 1-0 now and I’m 0-1,” he said. “Our kids work too hard to lose, so when we don’t win, I need to find a way. I let them down tonight.”
Walker also felt bad for the capacity crowd which went away from Panther Stadium unhappy.
“Our fans came out to support us and I’m sorry they had to witness that,” he said. “I hope they’ll be back.”
One thing he said his club will definitely learn from this one is nothing can be taken for granted.
“Hopefully, we’ll wake up and do a better job,” said Walker. “Our players have to learn we can’t just go through the motions in practice. We need to think outside the box.”

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