Panthers take first step, claw Cougars 51-22

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The Fightin' Panthers are headed to Area round after defeating China Spring Friday. (File Photo by Kathy Canady)

The Fightin’ Panthers are headed to Area round after defeating China Spring Friday. (File Photo by Kathy Canady)

By BOB VARMETTE COPPERAS COVE – Running never gets old for the Liberty Hill Panthers. But it must have been tiring for Jon Shannon. The Panthers junior fullback rushed 38 times for 263 yards and a career-high five touchdowns Friday night, leading the Panthers past the China Spring Cougars 51-22 in a Class 4A Division I bi-district playoff game at Bulldawg Stadium in Copperas Cove. Shannon scored on four runs of 1-yard each and unleashed a 59-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter as the Panthers pulled away from the overmatched Cougars. Shannon scored three of his touchdowns in the final quarter. “I’m tired, but I’m really happy,” Shannon said. “We played well. I’m so proud of my team right now. We’re so happy.” Liberty Hill (9-2) advances to the area round, where they will meet Gonzales, a 24-7 winner over La Feria, at a time, date and site to be determined. The Panthers talked during the week about taking the first step toward a third state championship. The Cougars (5-6) got stepped on. With Shannon carrying much of the load Friday night, Liberty Hill was again proficient on the ground as a team, rushing for 377 yards. “Jon’s a hard-running kid – he doesn’t look like much, but he was one of the hardest-running backs we’ve had in a while,” Liberty Hill coach Jerry Vance said. “That’s what happens when they were concentrated on the sweeps and the outside stuff. When that happens, that leaves that inside stuff open.” Much of the game went according to script for the Panthers. But not the first drive. It was a bizarre beginning for the Panthers. After receiving the opening kickoff and returning it to their own 38, a mixup on the first play lead to the fumble and the Cougars recovered at the Panthers 24. Three plays later, China Spring went up 7-0 on an 11-yard run by junior running back Keaton Dudik with just 55 second gone in the game. Liberty Hill responded, with Shannon scoring his first touchdown on a 1-yard dive to cut the lead to 7-6. The Cougars extended the lead to 14-6 on a 75-yard run burst by Dudik, who finished with 151 yards rushing for China Spring. There was hope on the Cougars’ sideline, but they couldn’t generate enough big plays to keep up with the Panthers. Senior quarterback Nick Hernandez scored to level the game at 14 early in the second quarter and the Panthers went ahead to stay on their first pass of the game – their first pass in three games – a 31-yard connection from Hernandez to junior swingman Tyler Glasgow with 3:55 in the first half. “It was a post-corner route and I run and I see both the corner and the safety come down and I knew right from that moment that it was going to be open,” Glasgow said. “I put my hand up and Nick delivered a perfect ball. Catching that was a great feeling.” The second half belonged to the Panthers. The Cougars mounted one drive in the second half and it got them within eight points at 30-22. Then the final quarter belonged to Shannon and the defense. The Panthers turned away the Cougars’ final three drives, forcing them to turn the ball over on downs, forcing a three-and-out and then ending the final drive with an interception by Austin Thrash. For the game, the Panthers held the Cougars to 291 total yards. “You’re going to give up some, with this game, the way the rules are nowadays,” Vance said. “I thought our kids did a great job tonight.”

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