Simpson scores five TDs in Panthers 40-7 win
By Scott Akanewich
Liberty Hill head football coach Jeff Walker wanted more out of Blake Simpson and on Friday night in Marble Falls, he certainly got it from the senior fullback as he scored five touchdowns in a 40-7 victory over the Mustangs.
“I challenged him to play better than he has so far this season,” said Walker. “We’ve seen him take over games before.”
Simpson definitely took this contest over and it didn’t take very long before he started to stamp his influence on the proceedings.
However, after the home side won the coin toss and deferred, the Panthers started off on their own 26-yard line and it was fellow senior Trey Seward who got the early call on three consecutive runs of 28, 6 and 5 yards, respectively, before Eric De La Cruz powered his way through the Mustangs defensive front on back-to-back plays.
Finally, on the seventh play of the drive, Simpson got his hands on the ball and rumbled into the end zone from 27 yards out and a 7-0 lead after an Ethan Minix extra point with 9:46 remaining in the opening quarter.
On the ensuing possession, the Panthers’ defense picked up right where they left off in posting three consecutive shutouts by stuffing the Mustangs’ offense on a three-and-out, which included a tackle for loss by senior linebacker Luke Huddleston and a combined sack of Marble Falls quarterback Jake Becker by Liberty Hill defenders Andon Thomas and Lloyd Johnson, which forced a punt.
When the Panthers took over at their own 45, Simpson put together his own personal scoring drive, which consisted of one play and 55 yards for his second score of the evening and a 14-0 Liberty Hill lead.
After the Mustangs fumbled the ball back to the visitors on the next series, Simpson completed his hat trick of touchdowns, finishing off a 10-play, 43-yard drive with a 7-yard run and a 21-0 lead – all before the first quarter had even ended.
Once the second quarter began, the game took on a chippy nature, with several unsportsmanlike conduct penalties being traded between the clubs, something Walker attributed to the Mustangs having talked themselves up in the week leading up to the contest.
“They wanted to come out and prove they could play with us,” he said. “I guess there was a lot of talking going on.”
A scoreless second quarter did little to quell the Panthers’ momentum, although it was briefly interrupted in the third when Marble Falls junior Tim Vidal scooped up a Liberty fumble and returned it 20 yards for what turned out to be the Mustangs’ only points of the night.
With the score at 21-7 nearing the end of the third period, De La Cruz busted in from three yards out and after another Marble Falls fumble inside their own 20 on the next series, Simpson scored from 15 yards out on the Panthers’ first play and just like that it was 34-7 after the extra point failed.
On the Panthers’ next possession, senior quarterback Charlie Calabretta found Seward down the right sideline for a 14-yard pass play to set Simpson up for his fifth touchdown, a 17-yard run for the final points of the game.
But despite the fact the scoring was done, the Liberty Hill offense still wasn’t finished rolling up yards and taking time off the clock.
After the defense had forced yet another three-and-out on the Mustangs, the Panthers took over at their own 10-yard line before running out the clock with an epic 17-play, 63-yard drive to end the game and all but wrap up the district title.
In all, Simpson piled up a season-high 189 yards on 16 carries along with his five touchdowns, while Seward ran 14 times for 139 yards and De La Cruz 11 for 40, as the Panthers collected 381 yards rushing on the game.
Liberty Hill’s defense pitched a shutout for the fourth straight game, as the Mustangs lone score of the night resulted from a fumble return – something Walker praised his troops on that side of the ball for.
“Our defense has the potential to be really good,” he said. “If we can stop the big play down the field, we could be lights-out.”
Entering the game, Walker was concerned with how his team – particularly the offensive line – had been performing despite dominant results on the scoreboard, one which was somewhat relieved, but not yet completely, he said.
“Tonight we got better,” said Walker. “I think we came off the ball better and showed more fight than we have been – the guys came out with more energy.”
Liberty Hill (6-0, 4-0) will now have consecutive bye weeks in the schedule before returning to action at home against Navarro on Nov. 20, so it was critical for Walker and his players to play well in order to carry positive momentum forward over the next three weeks without any Friday night competition – and perhaps get a bit of rest, he said.
“We’re going to give them a little time off,” said Walker. “Grades come out next week, so we’ll give them some time to sort that out.”
But, that doesn’t mean he wants them to lose sight of what ultimately lies down the road.
“We need them to stay focused and to be smart and take care of themselves,” he said. “We can’t take even one step back.”