Liberty Hill defeats Bastrop, 57-7, to advance
By Scott Akanewich
Noah Long took a handoff in the third quarter of Liberty Hill’s 57-7 home playoff victory over Bastrop on Friday, made a cut and found himself sprinting down the right sideline toward the north end zone of Panther Stadium for an 81-yard touchdown in the Purple-and-Gold’s victory over the visiting Bears.
Nothing surprised Long about the play – except for some unexpected company he had downfield on his way to the promised land.
“Our center Jackson (Harrison) was out in front and got the safety with a block,” said Long, who rushed for 179 yards on 17 carries with four touchdowns. “I had a smile on my face while I was running.”
Long also praised guard Julius Osborne for helping spring him loose on the run, but saved him biggest compliment for his teammates across the line of scrimmage.
“When your defense plays amazing like ours did tonight, it really gets our energy rolling,” he said.
However, it was Bastrop who got its energy going early, embarking on a 10-play, 75-play drive to open the game, resulting in the first points of the contest on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Bears quarterback Seth Mouser to Julius Baynard and a 7-0 lead.
But, the drive was helped by a pair of Panthers penalties – a personal foul and a pass interference call which put the ball on the doorstep and once the home side got its act together, there would be no more points for the Bears on this night.
Liberty Hill failed to score on its first possession of the game, but only took four plays the second time they got the ball to tie the score.
Grady Flinn picked up 22 and 5 yards, respectively, on back-to-back runs before Long nearly scored before being forced out-of-bounds, but a face mask call on Bastrop set up Long’s four-yard run on the following play and once Ethan Minix added the extra point, parity was restored to the proceedings.
Joe Pitchford got his chance to contribute to the cause on the Panthers’ next series after the Liberty Hill defense forced a negative-yardage three-and-out, by picking up 12, 9 and 9 yards on three straight carries before it was Long who scored from 19 yards out with what ended up being the winning points in putting the Panthers up by a 13-7 score.
Once Long had completed his hat trick of touchdowns and increased the lead to 20-7 with a two-yard run the next time the home team had the ball, the Panthers’ defense continued to turn the screw against the Bears, including a sack by senior Devin Riley – the first of his two in the contest – resulting in a loss of seven yards on a 3rd-and-9 play.
Liberty Hill head coach Kent Walker had kind words for the efforts of Riley throughout the game.
“Devin made a few plays tonight,” said Walker. “He did everything he was asked.”
Flinn scored the first of his three touchdowns on the evening with a 12-yard run, which was followed by an Andon Thomas run for a 2-point conversion and the Panthers led 28-7 at the half.
Long’s 81-yard scoring jaunt put the first points of the second half on the board and after that, the Panthers’ defense continued to shut down the Bears at every opportunity.
In fact, following Bastrop’s opening two drives of the game, they were forced into seven three-and-outs and three turnovers-on-downs on its final 10 possessions of the game.
Everything the Bears’ offense couldn’t do, the Panthers had no problem with.
Flinn’s second two touchdown runs of two and six yards, respectively, were sandwiched around a 13-yard rumble by fullback Logan Dyer, which cast the die as far as the result was concerned, as the home side cruised to an easy victory.
Liberty Hill rushed for 452 yards in the game, which was a credit to what the Panthers’ offensive line was able to accomplish, said Long.
“We just stuck to our game plan and our linemen did an amazing job,” he said. “You could tell by the third quarter, Bastrop was tired and we had them.”
Walker said the 57 unanswered points his squad scored after the early Bastrop score was a result of his players’ ability to make necessary changes on the fly.
“Our kids had to battle some adversity early on, which is something they haven’t had to do for awhile,” he said. “But they responded very well and made the right adjustments.”
Liberty Hill (9-2) will next face Boerne Champion (9-2) in a rematch of last season’s second round meeting between the teams in which the Panthers prevailed by a 41-0 score.