Rematch with Badgers up next for Panthers
By Scott Akanewich
When the Panthers of Liberty Hill walked off the field in Lampasas on Oct. 18, the scoreboard said it all.
In what had already been a season of disappointment, a 42-point defeat at the hands of a district opponent was certainly the low-water mark.
How things have changed since.
The Panthers lost again the following week, 35-31 at home against Burnet, but then embarked on a run which has seen them turn a 2-5 record into a 7-5 mark, including three straight playoff victories by a combined score of 134-21.
However, things will be ratcheted up a notch as next up for head coach Jeff Walker’s club is a rematch with the Badgers, who continued on since the teams’ first meeting to post a 12-1 record as district champions and only have a 31-30 loss to Lorena preventing them from having a perfect record.
Something else to consider is the fact they defeated fellow district champions Needville by a score of 66-44 last week to advance after having won its first twp postseason games fairly easily against Brazosport (42-14) and Gonzales (56-6).
Very Panthers-like margins of victory.
At the center of it all is junior quarterback Ace Whitehead, who has lit up opposing defenses all season with a deadly combination of running and passing.
Against Needville, Whitehead completed 18-of-21 passes for 395 yards and four touchdowns, while also rushing for 83 yards and a pair of scores.
When Whitehead isn’t running wild, there’s a good chance junior Jack Jerome is carrying the ball, as his team-leading 1,331 rushing yards on the season would attest, or senior Daunte Cuffie, who has added 763 yards on the ground.
Walker knows his defense is in for a challenge against Whitehead and the Badgers despite their recent run of form, he said.
“Whitehead’s very good at distributing the football,” said Walker. “He’s good running and throwing, has a really good running back and three excellent wide receivers.”
In fact, Lampasas has a pair of 1,000-yard wideouts in seniors Cameron Everts (71 receptions, 1,117 yards, nine touchdowns) and Jaylon Porter (56-1,115, 15), to go along with junior Michael Murray, who has 844 yards and 15 touchdowns.
So, to say the Badgers are explosive offensively is an understatement.
However, the Panthers have a dangerous trio of runners in juniors Trey Seward (177 carries, 1,866 yards, 20 touchdowns) and Blake Simpson (196-1,517, 16), as well as senior Nash Robinson (96-498, 10).
Robinson, in particular, has been especially effective in recent weeks since moving back to the Liberty Hill offensive backfield after defensive duty, in softening up opposing defensive lines for big gains for Seward and Simpson both up the middle and to the outside.
Despite his club’s earlier setback against the Badgers, Walker believes his squad is in a much better position to face them again, he said.
“After that game, we were crashing and about to burn,” said Walker. “But, we got the plane upright again and we’re definitely feeling much better about ourselves.”As for any kind of revenge factor which might be at play, the Panthers’ sideline boss was having none of it, as a more important goal is in sight.
“Sure, you always want another chance at someone who beat you,” he said. “But, I think the motivation is more to get to the final four.”