Defense again comes up big for Panthers as they defeat Georgetown, 17-13
By Scott Akanewich
Carter Hudson had some making up to do after being the defender beaten on a 75-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter of Liberty Hill’s 17-13 road victory over Georgetown at Birkelbach Field on Friday night.
After all, the Panthers had just opened the scoring with Joe Pitchford’s 11-yard touchdown run finishing off a 6-play, 80-yard scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead over the Eagles.
So, the last thing the visitors needed was to give the momentum they had just gained right back to their hosts.
But, indeed that’s exactly what happened when on Georgetown’s first play from scrimmage following the ensuing kickoff, Eagles senior quarterback Darson Herman hooked up with junior wide receiver Drayden Dickmann with a long, arching spiral down the left sideline which the wideout caught in stride over the outstretched arms of Hudson and took it to the end zone to tie the score at 7-7.
So, fittingly, it was again Hudson, who made the biggest defensive play of the entire night when the senior cornerback successfully defended a 4th-and-17 pass late in the fourth quarter to all but seal victory for the Purple-and-Gold.
According to Liberty Hill head coach Kent Walker, it was indeed poetic justice.
“What I like most about that play is the fact he didn’t let the earlier play affect him the rest of the game,” said Walker, of the young man known as “Rocket,” for his blazing speed. “He showed a lot of maturity and senior leadership.”
Only three touchdowns were scored in the gritty, gutty battle between nearby neighbors and the Liberty Hill defense left the first calling card of the contest when a claw of Panthers descended on Herman as he scrambled toward the sideline desperately seeking a receiver downfield, a group which included Drake Torno, Reid Bynum and Hollis Brady, resulting in a loss on the play.
On the following down, Herman’s pass fell incomplete, resulting in a 29-yard field-goal attempt which missed the mark, leaving the game scoreless.
However, it wasn’t all about the defense, as the Liberty Hill offense began to chip away at the Georgetown defense, with the primary protagonist being sophomore running back Noah Long, who broke into the Eagles’ secondary on a spectacular 58-yard jaunt on his second carry of the evening, which helped set up Pitchford’s scoring run three plays later.
On the Panthers’ opening possession of the second stanza, the offense set up shop on the Georgetown 39-yard line after the Liberty Hill defense stopped the Eagles on a 4th-and-1 to take over on downs already well inside Georgetown territory.
Will Szewczyk was sacked on the Panthers’ first pass attempt of the contest – sandwiched between runs of eight and seven yards by Long and Grady Flinn, respectively – in entering the Eagles’ red zone, where senior Devin Riley ran in from 10 yards out three plays later to give the visitors as 14-7 advantage with 6:30 left until halftime.
Walker said Riley provided a spark in the ongoing quest to find the next two running backs in the Panthers’ pecking order after Long.
“We’re still in nondistrict and trying to find out who our best three backs are,” he said. “Devin is definitely in that mix.”
Long headed to the halftime locker room with 102 yards already on his resume for the night – including a 23-yard burst in addition to the 58-yarder – on only eight carries in the opening pair of periods, but was only getting started on his yardage haul for the evening.
The Panthers were forced to punt of their opening series of the second half, which gave the ball to the Eagles at their own 10-yard line.
But, Herman and the Eagles offense was undaunted by the distance between themselves and the Panthers’ end zone and embarked on a methodical 10-play, 90-yard march that ended with Herman’s 1-yard run to close the gap – a touchdown which would’ve leveled the proceedings if not for a missed extra point, which left the score at 14-13 in favor of the visitors.
It certainly didn’t take long for the guests to respond, though.
On the ensuing series – Liberty Hill’s second possession of the third quarter – Long took a handoff from Szewczyk on a 1st-and-10 play from the Panthers’ 20-yard line and raced 70 yards down the right sideline before finally being caught from behind at the Georgetown 10 for a 1st-and-goal situation.
However, it wasn’t meant to be for another six points this time, so the Panthers’ settled for an Ethan Minix 22-yard field goal to increase their lead to 17-13 with 4:52 left in the third quarter.
Georgetown only got its hands on the ball twice in the final period and on both occasions, the Panthers’ defense produced a pair of fourth-down stops, including Hudson’s heroics near the death.
Liberty Hill got the ball back with 3:30 left in the contest and it was Long who turned the lights out on the Eagles in converting a 3rd-and-5 from the Panthers’ 39 into a first down with a 7-yard gain, after which point all which was required was for Szewczyk to kneel with the ball in the victory formation and it was done deal.
Long ended the evening with 16 carries for 230 yards, as the Panthers piled up 314 yards on the ground with contributions from six different ballcarriers on the night.
But, once again, it was the Panthers’ stonewall defense which won ultimately won the day – a point of satisfaction for senior defensive end Lloyd Johnson, Jr.
“This win means everything for us,” he said. “Going against Georgetown, we didn’t know what to expect.”
Johnson added the multiple stops he and his defensive mates were able to produce provided momentum which the Panthers’ offense could feed off and use to their advantage in returning the favor to their teammates across the line of scrimmage.
“When the offense can move the ball, it gives us a break,” he said. “Which gives us even more momentum because energy is contagious.”
Following a pair of close games – one win, one loss – and a blowout victory so far this season, the Panthers are still trying to determine what their true identity is, said Johnson.
“I think we’re still finding ourselves,” he said. “But, this win is amazing and we feel great.”
As the ante has been upped in each of the Panthers’ first three games of the campaign, Walker is duly pleased with how his team has responded in kind – especially against a quality Eagles opponent, he said.
“Georgetown is a good football team and we held them to 13 points,” said Walker. “I’m proud of them, but there’s still a lot of things we need to work on – we’re still a work in progress.”
However, the fact his players pulled it out in a close contest – away from home, no less – showed him something, he said.
“We needed a tight game to see how we would react,” said Walker. “Even if we only win by one point, it’s fine with me.”
For the first time this season, the Panthers failed to commit even a single turnover, although they were still called for a few too many penalties, he said.
“We still have some stuff to clean up,” said Walker. “But, I think we played well in all three phases of the game.”
Liberty Hill (2-1) will next wrap up its nondistrict schedule with a rare Thursday night home game against LBJ before opening the league slate at Crockett the following week, but for the time being, Walker said he’s proud of how more and more of his players continue to step up their respective games – especially as the lights begin to shine a bit brighter as the season wears on.
“Playmakers make big plays in big games,” he said. “We had some kids make some big plays tonight.”