Despite dominance, Panthers need improvements
By Keith Sparks
From the outside looking in, a 62-26 win over a district rival seems like a positive outcome.
The Panthers, however, have their sights set higher. It’s a good problem to have, but Liberty Hill is in a position where they’re simply too good for the district they’re in. It may seem silly to be upset after a 36-point victory, but according to Head Coach Jeff Walker, simply winning isn’t enough for the Panthers right now.
“We don’t worry about the scoreboard,” Walker said. “We worry about us and our effort, us getting better every snap, and we haven’t been doing that. That’s been our focus. It’s concerning as a coach, when you start talking about pedaling downhill, we’re not pedaling downhill right now.”
Considering Burnet’s 2-6 overall record and last-place position in district, the assumption was that the Panthers would roll over the Bulldogs from the get-go, but that was far from what happened. At the end of the first quarter, Burnet held a 12-7 lead, and at halftime, Liberty Hill was up by just one possession at 20-12.
“They kept the ball away from us,” Walker said. “Throwing those little, short passes to the sideline was probably the biggest one. Their offense was using the clock pretty well, dinking and dunking and keeping our offense on the sidelines. They did some things that we didn’t prepare for, so it took us a little while to adjust.”
While Burnet deserves credit for their execution in the first half, Walker said the team’s mindset heading into Friday’s game had a lot to do with the first-half letdown.
“It’s really hard to play a team when everybody tells you how good you are and how bad they are,” Walker said. “It’s a rivalry game, so you’d think we’d get up for it, but we really weren’t. I think we just felt like we’d get off the bus and kill them, but that’s really not the case right now, as beat up as we are.”
When the final buzzer sounded, however, the Panthers had a 36-point victory against a district rival. All’s well that ends well, right? Wrong.
According to Walker, the last two wins have been nothing to celebrate, because he hasn’t felt like his team has gotten any better from one week to the next.
“I think we just don’t dwell on wins much,” Walker said. “To be honest, our last two wins, we haven’t celebrated. They’ve been kind of downers. I know that’s crazy for some people, but we just felt like we didn’t play very well. We won the football game, but we didn’t play, we didn’t represent, and we didn’t do what we’re capable of doing, so it’s been a little frustrating.”
On Saturday mornings, the Panthers typically watch film of Friday night’s game to see what went right and what went wrong. This past Saturday, Walker insinuated that film showed a lot went wrong.
“We’re pretty up-front and honest with them on Saturday morning, and I think they know we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Walker said.
While he wasn’t particularly happy with his team’s performance on Friday, Walker is optimistic that their struggles in the first half can be used as a positive moving forward. Most coaches will tell you that a long win streak or dominant stretch of performances can make a team nervous, as all good things must come to an end, so getting a bad half out of the way early – while still getting the win – can be used to teach the Panthers a necessary lesson.
“No doubt, I think our kids are aware that we have to show up to play every time,” Walker said. “We’re not good enough just to step on the field, athletically, and dominate. We’ve got to show up, we’ve got to play well.”
Fortunately for the Panthers, they’ll be tested more heavily over the next two district games against a solid Taylor team and the only other undefeated team in the district, Canyon Lake. With the playoffs on the horizon, a true test of their strength against a Canyon Lake team that mirrors the Slot-T offense could serve as a huge advantage for the Panthers moving forward.