Panthers prepare to face rival Bulldogs in Burnet on Friday

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By KEITH SPARKS

Every year, in every sport, there is one particular game that most Panther athletes have circled on their calendar. On Friday, the football team will get the opportunity to play that game. The Panthers will face their long-time rival Burnet Bulldogs at Burnet High School in a matchup that could end up being an important one come playoff time.

The Bulldogs are 4-3, overall, and 0-2 in district play after playing China Spring and Gatesville, both of which are ranked in the top 10 in the state. For either the Panthers or the Bulldogs to make the playoffs, Friday’s matchup is a must-win.

“Looking at rankings, you’ve got La Vega at two, China Spring at six, and Gatesville at nine or something like that, so in everybody’s eyes they’re the top tier,” Walker said, “but we still feel like we are, too, but it’s something we’ve got to show on a daily and weekly basis. We’ve got to show up and we’ve got to take care of our business and see where we are at the end. With that being said, Burnet’s 0-2. They’ve lost to China and Gatesville. We’ve lost to La Vega, so there’s no doubt this is a really big game for both of us if we want to get into the playoffs. If we want to get into the playoffs, both of us have to take care of this week.”

While it’s an important game, no doubt, the rivalry is more heavily based on history and proximity and familiarity than anything. With Liberty Hill and Burnet being so close to one another, many of the high school athletes in both towns grew up together.

“Our kids know their kids, and I think some of their kids know our kids,” Walker said. “That makes it just kind of neat. They pass through us every time they go to Austin. It’s always been, since ’01 I guess, when I was back here, it was big. We played in week 10 there for a while when I was here, and it was always the undefeateds. We were both 9-0, and it was a big highway 29 deal.”

The matchup between the two teams used to carry more weight, as the Panthers and Bulldogs were making deep playoff runs, often among the favorites to win the State Championship. Over the past few years, however, it hasn’t meant as much on a state-wide level.

“It’s lost its luster over the past few years, because neither one of us have been where we want to be,” Walker said, “but I still think it’s a big game for the kids. I don’t think either coach has to build it up. I think both teams will come out and play hard, because we do run into them in other sports and they are right down the road. There’s not a lot of pep talks that I’ll be giving this week. It’s Burnet week and we need to get to work and take care of some business this Friday, because they’re a good football team.”

The Bulldogs, who have beaten the Panther football team since 2012, lost their first district game against China Spring by a final score of 42-16. Their second district game against Gatesville had a similar result, as Burnet fell by a final score of 47-7.

According to Walker, starting running back Ian Carter, a senior, and wide receiver Sterling Galban, a Texas Tech commit, are their most dangerous weapons.

“Offensively, they’re a Spread, and they do a good job,” Walker said. “They have a little sophomore quarterback that throws the ball really well. Number one, their receiver, is probably their main target. Number 27, their running back, is a real good running back. Both those kids ran in the State Track Meet, so they’re both very fast kids. They run the 100 and the 110 hurdles. You don’t get to the State Track Meet in the 100 and 110 hurdles if you don’t have something going for you. Those two guys are kind of who their offense goes around.”

On the defensive end, the Bulldogs’ advantage comes at the line of scrimmage, where their defensive line dwarfs the Panthers’ offensive line. If the Panthers do what they’ve been coached to do, according to Walker, the size difference up front shouldn’t be an issue.

“Defensively, they’re just scrappy, and they’re real big up front,” Walker said. “They’re real big up front. I mean, their nose (tackle) is 280, and they’ve got other guys that are probably 250, 260. They’re a lot bigger than we are up front, so that could give us some problems if we don’t come off the ball and stay low and do what we’re coached to do.”

Despite the Bulldogs’ less-than-impressive district performance thus far, Walker and the Panthers won’t take them lightly. After years and years of back-and-forth matchups, the Panthers know better.

“They’re a good football team,” Walker said. “They’re 4-3. They’ve beaten some teams. Solid team, but we think we’re a solid team. Just going to come out and see on Friday night who wants it more.”

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