Liberty Hill beats La Vernia 35-17 in State Quarterfinal with huge fourth quarter
By Keith Sparks
After a first half that was nothing but trouble for the Panthers, Liberty Hill was able to squeak out a 35-17 win over La Vernia at San Marcos’ Toyota Rattler Stadium on Saturday behind a huge fourth quarter.
Although the Panthers scored first on a 45-yard touchdown run by Kyle Harrison in the first quarter, that was one of the few bright spots of the first half for Liberty Hill.
The Panthers had at least three other scoring opportunities, one of which ended with a missed field goal after a dropped pass in the end zone, another that ended with a fumble in enemy territory, and yet another that ended with poor clock management as time expired headed into halftime.
With no timeouts left and an opportunity to take a halftime lead, quarterback Jacob Cearley took a sack with 30 seconds left, allowing the clock to continue to run. On fourth down with the clock ticking, the Panthers were unable to make the necessary substitutions in time for a field goal. At halftime, La Vernia led by a score of 10-7.
Defensively, the Panthers looked close to unstoppable in the first half, save the lone touchdown pass by the Bears. Drake Oberpriller got to the quarterback often, while Walker Baty and Trey Seward made an impact with two huge pass deflections.
La Vernia’s first-half points came by a way of a 22-yard field goal and a touchdown pass from quarterback Clayton Chadwick to Daryl Dulak.
The second half, however, was a different story. After a punt of their own to start the second half, the Panther defense forced La Vernia to punt, as well, and the Panther offense took advantage.
After setting such a play up for the entire game by using only their running backs for the first two and a half quarters, the Panthers went with a quarterback keeper that caught the La Vernia defense completely off guard. Fighting off defenders along the way, Liberty Hill quarterback Jacob Cearley took off for a 64-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 14-10 lead.
Next, La Vernia opted to settle for a 38-yard field goal, but the wind seemingly played a factor and the kick was short, giving the Panthers the ball and the opportunity to take a two-possession lead. As was often the case in this game, however, the Panthers fumbled yet again in enemy territory.
After recovering the fumble, La Vernia scored almost immediately as Chadwick found room to run for a 65-yard touchdown to take a 17-14 lead with 6:31 remaining in the game.
The Panthers caught La Vernia off guard yet again on their next possession, faking the run and throwing deep to Harrison for a 61-yard touchdown reception to take a 21-17 lead.
The Panther defense would then force a fourth and long for La Vernia. The Bears got tricky with a fake punt pass that looked to be complete for a first down, but was dropped before possession was established, giving the ball back to Liberty Hill and putting the ball back in the hands of Harrison, who quickly took off for a game-sealing 45-yard touchdown run.
Cearley would score once more for good measure on a 14-yard quarterback keeper, and Wyatt Cheney sealed the game with an interception with less than a minute left and a 35-17 lead.
With the win over La Vernia, the Panthers are now headed to the State Semifinal against Carthage. The Bulldogs have won 40 games in a row dating back to 2016 and are the back-to-back 4A Division I State Champions.