Roughnecks up next for Panthers
By Scott Akanewich
When the Liberty Hill Panthers make the 145-mile trip to Waller Nov. 15, a formidable opponent will be waiting for them in West Columbia.
The Roughnecks will enter with a sparkling 9-1 overall record on the season and a 5-1 mark in district play and will present a rugged proposition for his squad, said Liberty Hill head Coach Jeff Walker.
“We saw them last year and they’re very impressive,” said Walker, whose team currently sits at 4-5 and on the back of consecutive wins to close a 2-3 district campaign. “They returned a lot of players for this year.”
Not the least of whom are sophomore running back Jordan Woodard, who leads West Columbia with 708 yards rushing and four touchdowns, while junior Jamaurion Woodard is second-best on the squad with 597 yards along with six scores.
A pair of senior runners in Jameson Rebector (533 yards) and Luke Arias (471) lead the Roughnecks with nine and eight touchdowns, respectively.
However, it’s not the West Columbia offense that concerns Walker, but the defense his side will be lining up against, he said.
“I think their biggest strength is their defense – they have some athletic kids who can fly to the football,” said Walker. “They’re only giving up 10 points per game.”
Indeed, the Roughnecks’ defensive line is anchored by 6-foot-4, 330-pound nose tackle Christopher Smith, which is cause for consternation within the ranks of the Liberty Hill coaches, said Walker.
“He’s a big child,” he said.
Conversely, the Panthers’ offensive line is minuscule in comparison, as center Ryley Rosenbusch tips the scales at 185 pounds, with tackle Keegan Klaus-Ryan the Panthers’ big boy at 250.
“I think you could take our center and both guards and they wouldn’t weigh as much combined,” said Walker. “But, in the playoffs we’re going to have to play teams like this and rise to the occasion.”
Liberty Hill’s run game is led by the power-speed combination of juniors Trey Seward (1,359 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Blake Simpson (1,162, 13 TDs), which has helped the Panthers’ offense churn out an impressive 358 yards rushing per game and has been a catalyst in recent weeks in jump-starting the Panthers’ offense behind a solid offensive line, that has finally begun to gel after early-season struggles.
According to Walker, the victory against Canyon Lake was just the tonic his team needed moving forward.
“It’s great for our seniors,” said Walker. “Everyone knows we’ve had a rough year for a lot of reasons. We’ve had injuries, penalties and everything else. So, we just challenged our kids to finish what we started. I don’t know if the Canyon Lake game was our best of the season, but our energy was the highest it’s been.”
Walker said despite his team’s 4-5 season, the postseason provides a chance for renewed life.
“Right now, records don’t mean anything – I’ve seen 2-8 teams go on a run in the playoffs,” he said. “Now, all we have to do is prove we belong and our confidence is better now than it’s been all season.”
Walker added his players still have the same hunger as they have since the outset of the season.
“I’ve seen some teams who are just tired of playing football by this time of the season and they’re ready for it to end,” he said. “But, we’ve never had that problem – they all understand what this place is about. Our goal is always to play for a state championship and finish every season right.”
In fact, Walker recalls how even after defeat in last year’s state championship game, his squad took very little time in getting back after it in anticipation of this season.
“Back in December of last year, when we got back from Christmas break, we started lifting and we didn’t stop until August,” he said. “I think we work harder than most teams in the offseason.”
Whether or not it will all pay off will be determined in Waller this week, but either way the effort is certainly appreciated, said Walker.
“When you put so much into something, it hurts a lot more when you lose,” he said. “We have great kids here.”