Panthers score 12 unanswered touchdowns in district win

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By Scott Akanewich
Sports Editor

When Grady Flinn crossed the goal line at the end of a 65-yard touchdown run nearing the end of the third quarter at Panther Stadium on Nov. 20, it finished off the scoring in an 84-0 Liberty Hill victory over Navarro.

The fact Flinn was in the game could’ve given one an indication of how the proceedings has transpired over the course of the evening without even checking the scoreboard.

Sure, the speedy junior will probably be a starter in the Purple-and-Gold backfield next season, but it’s still this season with the likes of seniors Trey Seward, Blake Simpson and Eric De La Cruz on the Panthers’ roster.

However, after a first half which saw the home side outscore the visitors by a 56-0 margin, the starters played the opening series of the second half before taking the rest of the night off while their understudies got some much-deserved playing time.

Senior Bryant Amsler scored on a 10-yard run in the third period right before freshman Noah Long slashed his way into the end zone from five yards out once the regulars were out of the game, which both preceded Flinn’s dash and the Vikings were vanquished.

Early on, though, it was junior defensive back Carter Hudson who stole the show, as the young man known as “Rocket” ran a Navarro punt back 40 yards for the first points of the night, then followed that up with a 30-yard interception return for another touchdown in the second quarter, with a third score nullified by a penalty.

Linebacker Kaden McMahan got in on the defensive scoring with a 47-yard interception return of his own to make it 21-0 in the first quarter, while all the while, what few plays the Panthers were running on offense were hitting jackpots in the form of long touchdowns.

Seward had a 61-yard touchdown run to go with scoring efforts of 25, 3 and 51 yards, while Simpson scored from 38 yards out and De La Cruz added a 15-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to produce the halftime advantage.

The closest Navarro came to putting points on the board all night was in the fourth quarter after a long catch-and-run had the ball inside the Liberty Hill 10-yard line, only for the Vikings to fumble away any chance they had of being the first offense to score against the Panthers’ defense in district play this season.

In all, 12 Panthers touchdowns without reply by the visitors meant an easy – but frustrating – night for Liberty Hill head coach Jeff Walker.

“These kinds of games aren’t going to prepare us for the playoffs,” he said. “But, at least a lot of our kids got to play tonight.”

Players like backup quarterback Will Szewczyk and No. 3 senior signal-caller Jaret Martinez, along with a host of others on both sides of the ball, who got the opportunity to play under the lights in the final regular-season home game of the season.

However, all sentimentality aside, Walker could once again only rue the fact his team continues to be untested with the postseason looming only three weeks away.

“You can only play against the teams who are out there in front of you,” said Walker. “But, when you play teams like this, you’re not ready and it scares me.”

Despite the fact Walker has more important things to concern himself with than preventing opponents from being embarrassed, the veteran coach went out of his way to at least attempt to keep the score down – although that’s a quite difficult proposition under such conditions, he said.

“I was trying really hard not to score at the end,” said Walker. “We didn’t want to get to 90.”

Walker remains resigned to the fact the entire season has largely been an exhibition against far inferior competition, but that doesn’t make it any easier for him to accept, he said.

“The next good team we play is going to be a playoff team,” said Walker. “We should be a little better, but we did all we could here tonight.”

Liberty Hill (7-0, 5-0) clinched the District 14 title with the victory and is lined up to face the fourth-place squad in District 13 in Glenn in three weeks on Dec. 11 – a contest the Panthers will host.

But, first they must finish off the regular season with a road game against Northeast Early College on Nov. 27 – the day after Thanksgiving – and after that one, Walker hopes all the turkeys will finally be out of the way.

“Winning the district is always good – especially in our first season in (Class) 5A,” said Walker. “But, that’s never our goal entering the season.”

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