Panthers won’t take Bulldogs lightly despite being heavy favorites

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By Keith Sparks

Although the rivalry has “lost its luster” a bit over the years, according to Liberty Hill Head Coach Jeff Walker, the Liberty Hill – Burnet matchup will always mean a little bit extra to those that play in it. Most of the athletes from both teams grew up together, playing youth sports and attending the same community events. For them, Friday’s game is about bragging rights.

“It’s kind of lost its luster over the last few years, but it still is (a rivalry),” Walker said. “Our kids played each other growing up and all those kinds of things, so it’s big for the community. It’s bragging rights, used to be the battle of 29. Like I said, it’s kind of lost its luster over the years, but it’s still big, especially for people that don’t typically come to the games. They’ll follow the Burnet– Liberty Hill game just because they know somebody in Liberty Hill and somebody in Burnet, so I just think it’s a bigger deal to the community.”

Those bragging rights come into play throughout the entire year, considering Liberty Hill and Burnet will matchup in every other sport, from basketball to track and everything in between. According to Walker, his players don’t want to give Burnet anything to talk about while they’re competing later on in the school year.

“The kids obviously know each other pretty well, so it makes it fun,” Walker said. “These kinds of games are the ones you look forward to playing, just because you get to play some of your buddies and people you know. You’re going to cross paths with them the rest of the year. I think that’s the big thing. You’re going to see them in basketball, you’re going to see them in baseball, you’ll see them at track meets and all those things, so you want to make sure they don’t have anything to talk about.”

Offensively, the Bulldogs run a spread offense led by sophomore quarterback Jaxson Denton (#11), who’s thrown for 748 yards and seven touchdowns while throwing six interceptions on the season. Their rushing attack is led by sophomore Marcus Escamilla (#10) who has 305 rushing yards on the season and three rushing touchdowns.

“Offensively, they’re not bad,” Walker said. “They’ve got a decent quarterback that can throw it and some decent receivers, a good running back. They’re in the spread, so one missed tackle can put points on the board.”

Coming into the game with a 2-5 overall record, 0-2 in district play, the Bulldogs must win Friday night in order to keep their playoff hopes alive, which Walker said makes them likely to “throw the kitchen sink” at the Panthers, considering they have nothing to lose in a must-win scenario.

“They haven’t had a lot of success, turning the ball over and doing some things that hurt them,” Walker said. “In district, they’re 0-2, so they’ve got to win this week. If they lose this week, they’re out of the playoffs, so it’s really big. Not only a game where you’re playing a team that’s 20 miles down the road, but it means a lot to them because they must win. They’re in a must-win, which is always scary when you play teams like that. They’re throwing the kitchen sink at you, because they have nothing to lose.”

The Panthers have won the last five straight matchups with the Bulldogs, who have struggled over the last half-decade or so, taking a major step back from their State Championship caliber teams from the early 2000s. According to Walker, that’s just the nature of small-town football.

“I’m not taking anything away from them, but it just hasn’t been the way it was back in the day,” Walker said. “2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, it was reversed. They were making runs at the State Championship game and we were trying to get to where they were. Small-town football, you have your ups and downs. Sometimes, we’re up and they’re down and vice versa. I think that’s the biggest point. You’re going to have good classes and bad classes, and what you do with those classes, coaching turnover and all the other things that come into play in small school athletics, you’re going to have ups and downs. You’re not going to be at the top all the time.”

As is typically the case for Walker and the Panthers, they won’t be taking anybody lightly. Instead of concerning themselves with the Bulldogs’ 0-2 district record, they’re simply going to worry about their own performance.

“We’re going to have to be on our best game, and like always, we’re more concerned about ourselves than them right now,” Walker said. “We’ve got to show up and play our best game. We definitely won’t be overlooking these guys. They’re not a bad football team.”

The game will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Burnet High School.

Sports@LHIndependent.com

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