Panthers rout Rebels, move to 4-0

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By SCOTT AKANEWICH
Sports Editor

You thought last week was rough.

Coming off a 76-0 home victory over Crockett last week in the district opener, Liberty Hill football supporters who made the trip to South Austin in hopes of seeing a more competitive contest this week against Travis were sorely disappointed.

Not with the result – an 86-0 Panthers victory against the Rebels – but with the fact the game was actually even less hotly-contested than six days earlier.

One man who definitely wasn’t pleased with how the game unfolded was Liberty Hill head coach Jeff Walker.

“We’re not very good,” he said. “As far as the fundamentals go, we’re still not doing the things we need to be doing.”

Although it sounds preposterous to hear a coach complain about his team after winning consecutive contests by a combined score of 162-0, Walker’s comments echo what he’s been voicing concerns over through his squad’s first four games of the season – despite a 4-0 record.

Liberty Hill’s offense was only required to run 32 plays on the evening, compared to the usual 80 or so a week after only needing 22 against Crockett.

Do the math and that’s only 54 plays in two games – not enough reps to be able to iron out the coach’s concerns – but certainly enough to demolish the opposition for the second straight week.

After a false start penalty on the Panthers’ offense on their opening play from scrimmage, senior fullback Blake Simpson took a handoff from quarterback Charlie Calabretta and rumbled 75 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead only 16 seconds into the game.

Surprisingly, it took nearly four minutes for the Purple-and-Gold to get back on the board, as Eric De La Cruz scored from nine yards out at the end of a five-play, 40-yard drive to make it a 14-0 game.

But, the Panthers were only getting warmed up.

Within the final 5:01 of the first quarter, Trey Seward (68-yard run), Andon Thomas (20-yard interception return) and Seward again (2-yard run) all scored with a safety from the defense thrown in and the visitors held a 37-0 lead after one.

For Thomas, it was the second straight week the junior linebacker returned a turnover for a score after scooping up a Crockett fumble in the previous game.

Carter Hudson got in on the scoring act with a 62-yard punt return for yet another Liberty Hill touchdown in the second quarter before Seward and De La Cruz found themselves in acres of open space on scoring runs of 10 and 51 yards, respectively, for a 58-0 halftime advantage.

Once De La Cruz completed his hat trick with his third touchdown of the night on a 17-yard run in the third quarter, the Panthers’ starters got to watch the rest of the game from the sidelines, as the second-team took over.
But, that didn’t mean the scoring stopped, by any means.

Backup junior signal-caller Will Szewczyk scored from 11 yards out to close the third period with the score at 72-0, before freshman Noah Long scored from seven yards out and junior Grady Flinn broke off a scintillating 65-yard run – both in the fourth quarter – to close the scoring at 86-0.

Walker’s career-high on offense as a coach is 89 points, most recently accomplished in the Panthers’ 89-34 home win over Connally on Sept. 21, 2018 and he said his players are cognizant of that fact.

“Our kids know that’s the record and they want to get it,” said Walker.

Simpson led Liberty Hill with 10 carries for 164 yards and a touchdown, while De La Cruz finished with 119 yards on seven carries and three touchdowns and Seward had 113 yards on seven attempts and a pair of scores.

In all, the Panthers ran racked up 468 rushing yards, while kicker Ethan Minix was a perfect 12-for-12 on extra points.
Travis only had 25 players suited up for the game – something which affected the outcome, he said.

“I think COVID has had more of an impact on Austin ISD than other places,” said Walker. “We’re seeing the result of that.”

However, global pandemics or not, this game had the feel of an NCAA Division I power conference team taking on a Division I-AA side, just as it had the previous week against Crockett.

But, next week’s opponent is another Austin school in McCallum, who currently sits at 0-1 after losing a close 14-7 decision to Anderson in its opener and is set to face Marble Falls away on Friday before visiting Panther Stadium on Oct. 23 – an opponent Walker fears won’t be so forgiving of mistakes by his club as the first four teams they’ve faced have been.

“We’re super-excited about next week because we’re playing a good McCallum team,” he said. “We’ll have to play our best football and to do that, we’re going to have to get better.”

As for his squad’s second straight slaughter, Walker was pleased for his players – if not completely with the manner they went about achieving victory.

“I’m happy for our kids to get a win,” he said. “But, moving forward, we need to get better.”

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