Liberty Hill hosting Del Valle in matchup of winless teams

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By Scott Akanewich

When the Panthers host Del Valle this week, one player they’ll need to keep a definite eye on is Cardinals junior wide receiver Braylon James, who is one of the most sought-after recruits by colleges across the country.

In fact, James has already received 33 Division I offers from a veritable variety of NCAA powers – a list that includes luminaries such as Stanford, Texas, USC, Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame and LSU – to only name a few.

In addition, Del Valle is led by head coach Bobby Acosta, who just last season coached the famed IMG Academy in Florida to a national No. 1 ranking and the mythical championship that comes along with it.

So, in other words, the home team will certainly have its work cut out for it – especially coming off a disappointing 12-7 home defeat against Ellison to open the season last week.

Liberty Hill head coach Kent Walker is well aware of the threat the Cardinals pose.

“They’re a very talented and athletic team,” he said. “Also, they’re well-coached and have a lot of good skill players.”

Walker wasn’t tipping his hand about how his defense was going to go about containing James, but after a solid Week 1 effort that saw the unit allow only six points, the pieces are in place for the Panthers to at least limit the 6-foot-2, 175-pound James’ effectiveness.

Speedy senior cornerback Carter Hudson could very well draw the assignment, or the entire Panthers’ secondary could cover-by committee, a group that includes junior corner Aden Burrell, senior safety Aaron Brewer and junior safety Carlton Schrank.

Whatever the approach, the entire defensive backfield must remain vigilant in defending passes from junior quarterback Skylar Hausenfluck, who has shown an ability to get the ball downfield.

Senior linebackers Andon Thomas and Reid Bynum led Liberty Hill with 10 tackles apiece in the opener, while Schrank and senior Drake Torno each added seven stops.

On the offensive side for the Panthers, sophomore running back Noah Long posted a solid effort in his first outing of the new season, with 29 carries for 129 yards and a touchdown, while junior Logan Dyer chipped in with 14 attempts for 92 yards and junior Gavin Salinas added 40 yards on nine rushes, as the Liberty Hill run game rolled up 270 yards on the ground in all.

However, ball security was a big problem for the Panthers, as they fumbled seven times – losing three – with senior signal-caller Will Szewczyk the chief offender with three, while Long and Salinas each put the ball on the ground twice in the contest.

Walker admitted his side has some serious fixing to do if its going to improve on its opening effort.

“We have some extensive work to do, but we’re looking at this game as an opportunity to get better,” he said. “We have some very resilient kids and this will be their chance to show just how resilient they are.”

All of the mistakes – physical and mental – the Panthers made in the opener still haunted Walker as he and his team readied themselves for the Cardinals.

“The bottom line is we beat ourselves and as a coach, that’s the most frustrating part,” he said. “We didn’t take care of business – it wasn’t Liberty Hill football and I was embarrassed.”

Like Ellison, Del Valle is also a Class 6A team, which provides exactly the kind of opposition Walker wants for his squad – and something the Panthers have a history of dealing quite well with, he said.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on beating teams we’re not supposed to beat,” said Walker. “To do that, we need to get better between now and Friday.”

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