Liberty Hill scores four times in scrimmage victory
By Scott Akanewich
Officially, there was no score kept at Panther Stadium on Friday night, as the board at the north end of the field showed a pair of zeros throughout Liberty Hill’s scrimmage against New Braunfels Canyon.
But, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of scoring – especially by the home side.
The Panthers outscored the Cougars, 27-7, in their one and only tuneup before the lights go on and the ball is kicked off for real on Sept. 25 when Class 6A Killeen Ellison will visit for the regular-season opener.
The evening was broken down into two separate portions as both squads were anxious to be able to get as much work in as possible.
First, there were four 10-minute segments played with a running clock, which was followed by a “live” half, played under normal game conditions.
Surprisingly, the Panthers came out throwing, as senior quarterback Charlie Calabretta hooked up with Trey Seward for a 28-yard gain on the Panthers’ opening possession, which was followed by a healthy portion of Liberty Hill’s usual bread-and-butter – the running game.
Blake Simpson had a strong run for positive yardage, which opened the gate for Seward to break off a 24-yard scoring sprint down the left sideline after the Panthers’ offense had methodically moved the ball into Canyon territory for a 7-0 advantage.
As the second segment unfolded, Lloyd Johnson stuck a Cougars ballcarrier in the Canyon backfield for a loss, as the Liberty Hill defense took its turn in the spotlight, culminating with a stop on fourth down after the visitors had moved into position to score.
The third segment was highlighted by a pair of long Panthers scoring strikes, as Calabretta found fellow senior Jonah Anderson wide open for a 60-yard catch-and-run before freshman Noah Long took a handoff and rumbled 80 yards for another touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
According to Liberty Hill head coach Jeff Walker, Long is definitely one to watch this season.
“Noah’s very mature for his age,” said Walker, of the only freshman on the entire varsity roster. “He already fits in with the rest of the guys in everything he does and he’s probably the fastest kid on our team. Noah will back up Trey (Seward), play some safety for us if we need him to and return kicks.”
In fact, Long is the first freshman to break into the varsity lineup in Walker’s three seasons as Panthers head coach and added his second touchdown of the evening on a 30-yard run in the fourth segment after Canyon had pulled one back, making the final margin, 28-7.
After the first portion of the scrimmage was complete, the teams played a “live” half under normal game conditions with play stoppages.
Simpson wasted no time in breaking free for an 80-yard scoring run on the Panthers’ first offensive play for a quick 7-0 lead.
Liberty Hill’s defense then made more plays, including a goal-line interception by Bryce Rampy on a deflected pass as the Panthers senior found himself in a seated position before hauling the ball in.
The Panthers continued to mix in the pass on offense, as Calabretta continued to find open receivers downfield, including a wide-open Andrew Hunter, who dropped what would’ve been a long touchdown before a roughing-the-passer penalty on Canyon gave the home team a first down.
Seward took over from there with a 60-yard scoring run and a 14-0 lead with 7:35 left in the first quarter.
Kaden McMahan batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage on the Cougars’ next possession to help stop a drive and give the Panthers’ offense the ball once again.
Only this time, it was senior Eric De La Cruz’s turn to shred the Canyon defense, with a bruising run up the middle before a 55-yard run moments later inside the Cougars’ 20-yard line.
Walker was pleased with the efforts of all of his backfield runners on the evening.
“I thought all four of our backs played well,” he said. “As a team, we ran hard and our offensive line is getting better.”
But, it was the Panthers’ air attack which struck again, as Calabretta hit Hunter with a 11-yard strike for his second touchdown pass of the game and a 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
After Canyon scored to make it 21-7 in the second period, De La Cruz got it back with a 31-yard sprint to the end zone to close out the scoring at 27-7.
Rampy then followed up his earlier interception by flying into the Cougars’ backfield with a tackle-for-loss to put an exclamation mark on the proceedings.
Walker was happy with how his team played as the Panthers will now have only seven days to get ready for the season-opener.
“We feel we have kids in the right spots, but it takes time,” he said. “I’ve never had a team in all my years of coaching who looked very good at this time of year, so we still have a lot of work to do, but I’m proud of how they performed tonight.”