Panthers stomp Hornets 49-42, take second in district

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Liberty Hill running back Elijah Davis (#7) throws a stiff arm at a Gatesville defender during the Panthers’ 49-42 victory in their final district game of the season. The Panthers finished second in District 13-4A, behind only undefeated Waco La Vega. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

With only one district game left to play and a playoff spot already locked up for each team, the only things on the line during Friday night’s game between Liberty Hill and Gatesville were seeding and pride, both of which Liberty Hill got the best of with a 49-42 victory over the Hornets.

The win locked up the second seed for the Panthers in District 13-4A, behind only undefeated Waco La Vega, and ahead of China Spring in third and Gatesville in fourth.

The momentum was on Liberty Hill’s side from the get-go, as Gatesville quarterback Jett Truss was stopped short on fourth and two for a turnover on downs on the Hornets’ first possession of the game.

Liberty Hill’s first possession, however, went much better. Running back Kyle Harrison was the featured back, running for three first downs on the drive with help from fullback Jakob Schofield and quarterback Brenden Ketchem. Harrison finished off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 4:57 left in the first quarter.

Gatesville’s next possession didn’t go much better than the first, as a deep ball was dropped on third and 10, forcing the Hornets to punt after a three-and-out.

The Panthers’ next possession, on the other hand, went about as well as it could have. Fullbacks Schofield and Hunter Oncken started things off for the Panthers, followed by Harrison’s second rushing touchdown of the first quarter from 51 yards out. With 3:01 left in the first quarter, the Panthers held a 14-0 lead.

The Hornets were able to get their passing game going late in the first quarter, as Truss and wide receiver Derrick Bayer started clicking. A fourth down conversion through the air followed by another 15-yard pass ended with a second 15-yard pass to Mayer in the end zone, making it a 14-7 game in favor of the Panthers with 11:54 left in the second quarter.

Less than a minute later, Harrison got into the end zone once more, this time from 45 yards out after being set up by Oncken on a 19-yard carry. With 11:10 left in the second quarter, the Panthers led 21-7.

Gatesville’s results weren’t as favorable on their next drive, as a great catch by receiver Tyler Lewis was wasted by another turnover on downs shortly thereafter as a deep ball from Truss fell incomplete.

Momentum continued to hang on the Panthers’ side into the second quarter, as Harrison converted on fourth down, followed by his fourth touchdown of the first half from 21 yards out to give the Panthers a 28-7 lead with 4:03 left in the second quarter.

The Hornets wouldn’t go away, though, converting on another fourth down in a big way. On fourth and 14 from the Panthers’ 25-yard line, Bayer got loose again for a 25-yard touchdown catch with 1:21 left in the second quarter to make it a 28-14 game.

Liberty Hill wasn’t able to get much going in the final minute-plus of the first half, as it ended with a frustrating miscommunication that resulted in time running out before the Panther offense could spike the ball to stop the clock near the 50-yard line.

The Panthers’ third-quarter woes that seem to have been a trend all season continued in this matchup, as their first possession of the second half ended with a fumble at the opposing 13-yard line.

Gatesville wasn’t able to take advantage, though, as they were forced to punt on fourth and 6 to give Liberty Hill the ball back.

Shortly after Gatesville’s punt, Liberty Hill punted for the first time in the game on fourth and 7 midway through the third quarter.

Gatesville’s resulting possession included yet another fourth-down conversion, this time on fourth and 8 with another completed pass to Bayer. He followed up his fourth-down conversion with a 29-yard reception to the opposing 7-yard line, and Truss did the rest with an 11-yard touchdown run to make it a 28-21 Liberty Hill lead with 3:53 left in the third quarter.

The Panthers’ third-quarter struggles continued, this time turning the ball over on downs as Harrison was downed in the backfield on fourth and 5 at the Hornets’ 33-yard line.

The Hornets would take advantage, scoring on an electrifying 50-yard touchdown pass to Bayer after keeping the Panther defense honest with a couple of runs up the middle for first downs. With 25 seconds left in the third quarter, the game was tied 28-28.

Liberty Hill’s next drive began at their own 21-yard line, but Harrison got them out quick. On third and 2, Harrison took off for 57 yards before being tackled at the opposing 14-yard line. Ketchem capitalized, tight roping the sideline on his way to a 14-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 35-28 lead with 10:25 left in the game.

Truss continued to carve up the Panther defense as he did in the third quarter, powering his way to a 36-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper to tie the game once again at 35-35 with 7:20 left to play.

Now that the third quarter had ended, so did the Panthers’ offensive struggles. A fourth down conversion by Harrison, followed by a 38-yard run by Elijah Davis, gave Liberty Hill an opportunity to score again from the 5-yard line. Harrison would take advantage, scoring his fifth rushing touchdown of the game from 5 yards out.

Following a muffed kickoff that nearly ended in disaster for the Hornets, Truss found Bayer yet again for a 71-yard touchdown pass with 3:18 left to play, tying the game at 42-42. The drive took only 17 seconds.

Oncken followed up the Hornets’ quick scoring drive with one of his own, taking off for a 67-yard touchdown run on the Panthers’ very first play of the possession to take a 49-42 lead just 19 seconds after the Hornets had tied it at 42.

With one more opportunity to tie or take the lead, Gatesville took possession from their own 27. Truss found Bayer open for 21 yards, but a sack by Marcus Grimm as he forced Truss out of bounds for a loss of 12 would put the Hornets in a fourth and 19 situation. An incomplete pass on fourth down would be it for the Hornets, and the Panthers simply kneeled after running for one more first down to end the game at 49-42.

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