Panthers’ playoff run ends with loss to Lampasas
By Scott Akanewich
Over the past six weeks, the Liberty Hill Panthers did very little wrong in running off a six-game winning streak which brought its season back from the brink of disaster.
On Saturday at John Gupton Stadium in Cedar Park, that trend continued.
However, it still wasn’t enough enough.
Despite a brave effort, the Panthers’ season came to an end at the hands of a powerful Lampasas side by a score of 49-34.
“You never want your season to end anyplace else than AT&T Stadium,” said Liberty Hill head coach Jeff Walker. “But, they’re a good football team.”
Especially good was junior Badgers quarterback Ace Whitehead, who accounted for all seven of Lampasas’ touchdowns on the afternoon in a masterclass performance which included 23-of-30 for 416 yards and six touchdown passes, along with a one-yard scoring run.
The contest got off to a rough start for the Panthers when sophomore Carter Hudson suffered a broken arm on the opening play from scrimmage, which left an already shorthanded Liberty Hill secondary even more at risk.
Lampasas took immediate advantage of the situation by throwing to that side of the field where senior Eric Byrd was substituted for the injured Hudson, when Whitehead hooked up with wideout Michael Murray for a 51-yard scoring strike and a quick 7-0 Badgers lead after only 1:31 had elapsed.
However, the Panthers answered with a five-play, 55-yard drive which ended with a 36-yard Mason Shipley field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3.
But, it didn’t take long for Lampasas to hit back, as Whitehead threw his second scoring pass of the contest less than two minutes later to restore the Badgers’ advantage to 14-3, before Shipley hit another field goal – this one from 39 yards out – for a 14-6 score with 3:24 left in the opening quarter.
But, Whitehead wasn’t quite done lighting up the scoreboard yet, as he ran in from a yard out to finish off a seven-play, 47-yard drive and a commanding 21-6 lead as the end of the first period approached.
After the Panthers took over at their own 22, junior Blake Simpson broke free for a 78-yard touchdown run down the left sideline on the first play of the possession, making it a 21-13 game after one.
The big play continued to haunt Liberty Hill in the second quarter, as Whitehead threw scoring passes of 59 and 24 yards to Jaylon Porter for a 35-13 lead.
What Liberty Hill needed at that point in the proceedings was a prototype Panthers scoring drive in order to keep the Badgers’ offense off the field and provide their defense a rest and that’s exactly what they got.
Senior quarterback Jacob Cearley led the offense on a 16-play, 65-yard drive, which culminated with a five-yard Trey Seward scoring run to make it a 35-19 game after a two-point conversion attempt failed, which was where the score stood at the half.
But, all the drive did was stem the Lampasas tide temporarily, as the Badgers defense forced a Panthers fumble on the opening series of the second half, resulting in another Whitehead touchdown pass, this one to Brenton Webb from six yards out and a 42-19 lead.
Seward scored from two yards out to make it 42-27 after Simpson ran in for two, but Lampasas came right back again with another Whitehead-to-Webb touchdown from 35 yards and it was 49-27 with 6:37 left in the game.
Simpson ended an eight-play, 70-yard drive with a five-yard scoring rumble to provide the final margin.
Walker highlighted the fact the Lampasas air attack was too powerful for his defense to stop.
“Their strength was our biggest weakness,” he said. “But, I’m proud of our defensive backs. Nobody’s pointing the finger – they’re part of the reason we got to where we are this season. But, it’s frustrating when you give up big plays.”
As for Byrd being pressed into service after Hudson’s injury, Walker was happy with how the senior responded.
“Eric came in and didn’t make any excuses,” he said. “I don’t know how many teams can be down to a No. 3 cornerback, but they never stopped fighting – if you’re going to lose, that’s how you want it to be.”
Simpson carried 27 times for 226 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Seward ran 21 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns, as the Panthers racked up 456 yards on the ground, but it was their inability to limit Lampasas’ offense which decided the game, said Walker.
“We would’ve had a chance if we could’ve kept the ball out of their hands more,” he said. “But, we still had chances of our own late in the game.”