Liberty Hill defeats Del Valle, 62-6

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By Scott Akanewich

Coming off last week’s disappointing defeat in the season-opener to Ellison, Liberty Hill was in the market for a big bounceback this week and that’s exactly what the Panthers got in a dominant 62-6 home victory over Del Valle.

Noah Long had 22 carries for 158 yards and five touchdowns in a much-improved effort from the Liberty Hill offense to go along with another shutdown effort by the Purple-and-Gold defense in rebounding from its opening-week defeat.

According to senior linebacker Andon Thomas, the victory provided a huge amount of relief for him and his teammates on both sides of the ball.

“Tonight was such a great feeling,” said Thomas. “Practice for our offense was really good this week and the defense did its job.”

Last week it took until just over a minute was left in the game for the Panthers to hit pay dirt with their lone points of the contest, but this time around, it took less than two minutes after the opening kickoff to light up the scoreboard for what would prove to be the first time of many on the evening.

The Panthers’ defense forced a Cardinals three-and-out on the game’s opening possession, forcing Del Valle quarterback Skylar Hausenfluck to drop back into his own end zone to punt – a short kick which was nearly blocked before it was returned 21 yards by Carter Hudson all the way down to the 4-yard line.

On the next play and Liberty Hill’s first from scrimmage, Long bounced in for his first score of the night to quickly make it a 7-0 game.

Only four plays after the ensuing kickoff, Hausenfluck found himself once again in the shadow of his own goal post for another punt and after another Hudson return, the Panthers’ offense was back in business again in the red zone leading to another Long scamper, this one from 11 yards out and a 14-0 advantage before five minutes had expired on the game clock.

Hausenfluck finally got to throw the ball instead of kicking it on the next series and connected with wideout Nano Crayton on a 75-yard scoring strike on the first play of the next series to cut the home team’s lead to 14-6.

However, that would be all the scoring for the Cardinals on this night, which would also shortly end for Hausenfluck, who was forced to the sidelines with an injury that kept the junior signal-caller out for the rest of the game.

No matter, as the Liberty Hill offense kept rolling up yards in the customary fashion which was missing in Week 1, but it was an opportunistic defense which produced Panthers points next.

Kaden McMahan intercepted a pass from backup quarterback Tim Caldwell and returned it all the way down the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown, which was followed soon thereafter by an Aden Burrell scoop-and-score inside the Del Valle 5-yard line after an enormous hit from Thomas jarred the ball loose from a Cardinals back inside the 10 and it was 28-6 at the end of the first quarter.

Liberty Hill head coach Kent Walker praised his troops for getting out on the front foot and establishing a tone from the get-go.

“We were very opportunistic early – they made some mistakes,” said Walker. “But, the biggest thing I’m most proud of is the ability of our kids to bounce back from last week to this week.”

Panthers backup quarterback Joe Pitchford was a surprise starter at running back and provided a proper pick-me-up for missing starter Gavin Salinas with a 2-yard scoring run midway through the second quarter before Long again crossed the goal line from 15 yards out after senior defensive end Lloyd Johnson, Jr. had picked up a loose ball and rumbled 52 yards all the way to the Cardinals 15-yard line to set up Long’s score and a 42-6 Liberty Hill halftime lead.

Carlton Schrank hauled in the first of his two interceptions on the game nearing the end of the first half and added a second later in the contest, as the Del Valle offense could get nothing going.

Senior Hollis Brady – who moved across the line of scrimmage to a defensive end spot for the game – had a massive impact on the proceedings with a pair of sacks for losses of 10 and 11 yards, respectively, to further fuel the Panthers defense.

Walker highlighted both defenders for what they brought to the fight.

“Hollis came over and did a really good job for us – we knew he could play some defense,” he said. “Carlton is getting better and better – it was his first start as a safety on the back end and he played really well.”

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, all that was left for Long was to score his fifth touchdown of the night on a 4-yard run before senior Grady Flinn capped off the scoring with a 13-yard run with 2:38 left to provide the final margin of victory.

Another feather in the cap of the Panthers’ defense was limiting heavily-recruited Cardinals junior wide receiver Braylon James to a single catch – which was a source of pride for the entire unit, said Thomas.

“We had game-planned around him,” said Thomas, of the rangy, 6-foot-2, 175-pound James, who has already received 33 Division I scholarship offers from powerhouse programs across the country such as Stanford, USC, Texas, Notre Dame and Ohio State. “He couldn’t catch the ball if they couldn’t get it to him.”

Walker saved his kindest post-game words for Long, who continues to spark the Panthers’ offense with his speed and shiftiness.

“Noah’s a pretty special running back, he really is,” he said. “I think tonight was the best I’ve seen him run and I think tonight was his real breakout as a varsity football player – he broke a lot of tackles, refused to go down and just did an outstanding job.”

As for the costly penalties and turnovers which plagued the Panthers in the opener, Walker was pleased to report his charges did a much better job in those departments.

“I think it’s just a focus thing, I think we were extremely focused in practice this week – not that we weren’t in practice last week because I think we were,” he said. “But, you now, I just don’t want to make any excuses for us. We just didn’t play very well last week.”

For the Panthers, indeed, what a difference a week makes and next up will be a road battle against nearby neighbors Georgetown, which means there’s not much rest for the weary, said Walker.

“I just want our players to enjoy this,” he said. “But, for us coaches, we’ll go right to watching film tomorrow.”

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