Coach, Cearley focused on bouncing back from overtime mishap


By Keith Sparks

One of the most important aspects of leadership is leading your team through adversity, which both Liberty Hill’s head coach and starting quarterback must do after Friday’s one-point overtime loss to Hutto.

After fighting their hearts out to tie the game on the final drive of regulation, the Panthers had a shot at winning the game in overtime with a two-point conversion, but failed to convert, leading to a one-point loss.

A miscommunication between the Panther sideline and quarterback Jacob Cearley led to the wrong play being run at the worst possible time, which both Cearley and Head Coach Jeff Walker have taken responsibility for.

“It was just a miscommunication with the players and the coaches, but I take full responsibility for that play,” Cearley said. “I called the wrong play, because I’m supposed to audible, but I didn’t hear the audible correctly, so I didn’t call the right play and we just messed it up.”

Although Walker said he doesn’t believe losing helps anybody, he did say that an experience like Friday’s against a top-ranked 5A team can only help his junior quarterback moving forward.

“Obviously, being in a game like that is going to help Cearley,” Walker said. “The more big games we get into, that’s why our pre-district is good for us. You get in there and we could have played three or four bad teams like a lot of people in our district and padded our record, but if we want to do what we want to do and play for a State Championship, you have to play these teams. I think these kinds of games help you come playoff time.”

The final result may not have been what the Panthers had hoped, but Cearley said Friday’s comeback performance showed him how hard his team is willing to work for a chance to win.

“It really told me how willing we are to win, how much we wanted to win, and how hard we fought all game,” Cearley said. “All the composure, too, just going out on the field and scoring on that last drive to get us into overtime. I’m really proud of my team and how we overcame being tired and pushing through to get us into overtime.”

Athletes and coaches, alike, can tell you just how bad it hurts to lose by one in overtime, but once the game is over, it’s up to the coaching staff and the leaders on the field to make sure lessons are learned and improvements are made. The most sensitive aspect of that process is finding a balance between encouragement and holding players accountable, which Walker said is what he thinks separates the good coaches from the bad.

“I think that’s what separates good coaches from bad coaches,” Walker said of finding that balance. “I really do. There’s a time and a place to put your arm around them and love them. I tell them all the time, ‘You’re the best we’ve got,’ but we’re also really hard on our kids. We’re not going to shy away from it. We expect perfection and it’s never going to happen, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to get through every night being perfect. We ride them hard here, but I think you could also come in our locker room and see we love them hard, too. I think the kids are aware of it. Sometimes, I think they might question it. There may be a day or two that goes by where they’re tired of getting ridden so hard, but I think they know when they go home and put their head on the pillow that their coaches love them and want them to be successful out there.”

As the starting quarterback, Cearley is responsible for leading his team through adversity just as much as the head coach is. As a first-year quarterback and one of the younger players on the team, however, Cearley is learning how to better lead his team each and every week.

“I keep encouraging those guys to keep up the good work they’ve been giving me through the summer and through these past two games,” Cearley said. “Really, just telling them good job and to go faster, even when they’re tired. I’m just trying to encourage them more every day.”

While Friday night and Saturday morning are used to reflect on the most recent game, dissecting what went wrong after a loss or celebrating what went right after a win, Walker said that reflection period is over by noon on Saturday. Come noon, it’s onto the next game, regardless of how low the lows were or how high the highs were on Friday night.

“We get done with film at about 12 o’clock and we put it behind us and start focusing on the next game,” Walker said. “We celebrate it when we win on Saturday, but it’s the same thing win or lose. We win, we celebrate Friday night and Saturday morning, we give out stickers and they get all kinds of little awards, but we move on after 12 and start focusing on the next one and get down to business. It’s the same thing when we lose. We cry about it and it hurts for a while, food doesn’t taste the same, but after Saturday at noon, our attention goes to the next opponent and doing everything we can to come back happy.”

According to Cearley, Walker has made it clear that he hates to lose, but his mindset has remained steady from one week to the next, regardless of Friday’s results, which has helped the team remain steady, as well.

“He wants to win and said he hates losing, but his mentality has been the same throughout,” Cearley said. “Just the next game, we’ve got to keep going, keep grinding it out and get wins.”

If the Panthers learn one thing from Friday’s experience, Walker hopes they learn how bad it feels to lose. Fortunately for the Panthers, they have nearly a full season to make up for it, starting with Manor on Friday.