Vance finds his 150th win as Panthers crush Austin Anderson at Homecoming
By KEITH SPARKS
Liberty Hill Head Coach Jerry Vance got his 150th career win in style on Friday, as his Panthers blew out Conference 6A opponent Austin Anderson by a final score of 41-18 on Homecoming night.
Although their leading rusher Justin Burkett was not with the team for undisclosed reasons, the Panthers’ rushing game didn’t skip a beat. Instead, they relied more heavily on Hunter Oncken and Brandon Barfield, who finished with 177 and 174 yards, respectively.
Barfield finished with two rushing touchdowns on 14 carries, and Oncken finished with one touchdown on 18 carries. After a lackluster offensive performance against Calhoun, the Panthers’ return to form came with an increased sense of physicality, according to Coach Vance.
“You get a chance to bounce back,” Vance said. “That was important. We needed to come out and do some old-fashioned stuff. We needed to be a little more physical. We needed to come out and take control of something, and we finally did, so I was tickled to death.”
The Trojans looked like they were going to make this a game early on, scoring after converting on a fourth down attempt during their first drive. Anderson quarterback Trey Lundquist found receiver Henry Conkle wide open in the end zone to take a 7-0 lead with 7:15 remaining in the first quarter.
The Panthers’ first drive was long and drawn out, spearheaded by Barfield and Oncken on short runs up the middle, one after the other. The drive was capped off by Liberty Hill quarterback Garrett Wright, who found wide receiver Carson Landry wide open in the end one to tie the game at 7-7 at the end of the first quarter.
On their next possession, the Trojans got all the way down to the Panthers’ 5-yard line before a chop block penalty moved them back 15 yards. After a few defensive stops by the Panthers, Anderson was forced to settle for a field goal, and took the lead 10-7 with 9:07 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers’ next possession is where they really started to dominate. They were successful time and time again on runs up the middle against Anderson, alternating primarily between Barfield, Oncken and Ethan Thom.
Reid Sanders and Jacob Schofield were in the backfield, as well, but saw only six carries combined. Oncken capped off the drive with a 20-yard touchdown run to make it 14-10 in favor of the Panthers with 4:11 to play in the first half.
At the tail end of the second half, the Trojans made it all the way to the 1-yard line before fumbling the ball at the line of scrimmage, which the Panthers recovered before running out the clock into halftime, maintaining a 14-10 lead.
The Panther defense recorded four tackles in the backfield on the evening, including sacks by Kendall Badon, David Allman, and Carter Ware. Coach Vance emphasized a more physical mindset all week leading up to the game, which is something they were successful with on both sides of the ball.
“I know it’s not politically correct, but you need to be aggressive when you tackle,” Vance said. “This is not tag or touch football. We wanted to be physical; we wanted to make sure the people from Anderson knew when they got hit that they got hit. It wasn’t just a touch or a tap, or what we call a belly rub.”
The second half was more of the same from the Panthers. Their first drive of the half resulted in a quick touchdown run from five yards out by Reid Sanders, who finished the game with 28 yards on four carries. That touchdown gave them a 21-10 lead with 9:06 to play in the third quarter.
Anderson was threatening to score on their next possession, with the ball at the 10-yard line, before Allman got to Lundquist in the backfield for a sack and a turnover on downs that gave the Panthers the ball back.
Oncken broke off the Panthers’ biggest play of the game on the ensuing possession for a 64-yard run to the opposing 26-yard line. Barfield followed that up by punching in a 20-yard touchdown run to increase their lead to 28-10.
The Trojans’ next possession ended in another turnover on downs. This time, Carter Ware got into the backfield for his only sack of the game.
Barfield got his second touchdown of the evening with 7:33 left to play in the fourth quarter, after which the Panthers’ extra point was no good due to a fumbled snap.
The Trojans made the game look a little bit closer, though it was pretty much out of reach at this point, as wide receiver Jacob Graves got loose for a 43-yard touchdown reception to bring the score to 34-18.
Late in the game, Panthers’ backup quarterback Christopher Neill got an opportunity to see the field on the Panthers’ final possession, which ultimately ended in a touchdown run by Ethan Thom, putting the lid on Coach Vance’s 150th win as a head coach.
According to Coach Vance, 150 is a number he thought he’d never see.
“Oh, Lord no,” Vance said when asked if he ever imagined he’d be coaching as long as he has. “I was going to quit and make a million dollars.”
Liberty Hill’s dominant performance just so happened to come on the front end of a bye week before district play starts for the Panthers, making the win significantly more impactful, according to Vance.
“Winning before a bye week is vitally important,” Vance said. “You feel good about yourself. You’re going into the bye week, and you’ve got a chance to correct some things. You’ve got time to get some kids healed and get them well. You’re not pushing – maybe you should – quite so hard after a win going into the bye week, because you know you have five days plus the three extra to get ready for the next team, so you don’t have to be in such a rush.”
After their bye week, the next team on Liberty Hill’s schedule happens to be Waco La Vega, the team that eliminated the Panthers during the playoffs last year. The Panthers will look for revenge on Friday, Oct. 7, at La Vega High School in Waco at 7:30 p.m.