Panthers stomp Grizzlies, 49-21
By KEITH SPARKS
The first half of the first game of the season looked like exactly that. Full of fumbles, false starts, and muffed kickoffs, neither team should have been proud of their first-half performances. The Panthers picked it up in the second half, however, as they were finally able to get the running game going en route to a 49-21 victory over Leander Glenn.
Each of the first two drives by the Panthers ended in consecutive fumbles, giving them four in the first quarter alone. Their first drive ended in a turnover on downs after two muffed snaps in a row from CENTER to first-year quarterback Jacob Cearley on third and fourth down. The second ended with two consecutive fumbles out of the backfield, the second of which was recovered by Glenn.
Glenn didn’t look much better, if at all, shanking a punt on their first drive and turning it over on downs on their second. Both of their first-quarter drives featured a number of false starts, moving them out of the red zone on one occasion and forcing them to unsuccessfully go for it on fourth down.
Early in the second quarter, the Panthers started to execute slightly better than they did in the first, a 24-yard pass from Cearley to Kyle Harrison and a 21-yard run by Jakob Schofield setting Shane Gonzalez up for a 5-yard touchdown run for the Panthers’ first score of the season.
Glenn’s next drive looked better, as well, ending in a 44-yard touchdown run by Khorin Thompson to tie the game at 7-7 with 3:24 left in the second quarter.
Immediately after Glenn’s first touchdown of the season, Harrison returned the kickoff 87 yards for his first touchdown of the season to take a 14-7 lead.
Two interceptions by the Panther defense on consecutive possessions from Wyatt Cheney and Trenton Seward allowed them to keep a 14-7 lead headed into halftime, although two dropped passes by Liberty Hill receivers stopped them from scoring what surely would have been walk-in touchdowns before halftime.
Liberty Hill Head Coach Jeff Walker took the blame for an ugly first half, claiming it was his “hardheaded” play calling that caused them to struggle.
“I made some adjustments, but the kids didn’t have to adjust. I called a bad first half,” Walker said. “They were inviting us to run some things and I was kind of stubborn, trying to run things that they were taking away from us. I’m hardheaded sometimes, so I didn’t call the game like it should have been called. We should have opened that up sooner, but turnovers hurt us early, too.”
The Panthers’ fifth fumble of the game took place immediately after halftime, giving Glenn the ball back early in the third quarter, but big defensive plays by Walker Baty and Cheney forced the Grizzlies into a turnover on downs.
Cearley took matters into his own hands after a number of dropped passes through no fault of his own, instead opting to rush for a 45-yard touchdown run.
Glenn answered with a solid drive, scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run by Lamont Slade with 3:53 left in the third after making the trek from their own 25.
Following a 34-yard run by Schofield, Cearley kept it for another rushing touchdown from 19 yards out after yet another dropped pass that he put right on the money. With 2:41 left in the third quarter, the Panthers held a 28-14 lead.
With the exception of a 58-yard touchdown run by Julian Morris of Leander Glenn, the rest of the second half was all Liberty Hill. Touchdown runs by Schofield, Harrison, and the final nail in the coffin by Blake Simpson gave the Panthers a 49-21 lead, which they’d carry through the end of the game.
Many of Friday night’s mishaps can probably be chalked up to inexperience, considering the offense featured a first-year varsity quarterback, two first-year varsity running backs and some players in new positions on defense. Walker admitted that it will take some time for them to gel, but thinks those players are in the right positions.
“It’s going to take some time for those guys that are in new spots,” Walker said. “We had some guys cramping because they’re not used to running the ball and some of those things, but I thought our kids played well. I think we got them in the right spots, we just have to have some of them step up. We still expect them to step up, because they didn’t play as well as we need them to, but I think that’ll come.”
All six of Liberty Hill’s touchdowns were scored on the ground, led by Cearley with two touchdowns and 78 rushing yards. Schofield led the team in yardage with 119 and one touchdown, while Harrison, Simpson, and Shane Gonzalez each scored rushing touchdowns, as well.
Defensively, Cheney led the way with an outstanding one-interception, 20-tackle performance, three of which were tackles for losses. Drake Oberpriller had three tackles for losses, as well, and Austin Knox was second on the team in tackles with nine, tied with Seward who had nine tackles and an interception, as well.