One step from State trophy

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By Scott Akanewich

Liberty Hill will look to win its first Class 5A state title on Saturday when the Panthers face South Oak Cliff at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Following the Purple-and-Gold’s 42-14 conquest of Houston-area Crosby last week in a rematch of the previous year’s semifinal, Liberty Hill will look to defeat another big-city squad in the Golden Bears, who hail from Dallas.

Interestingly enough, South Oak Cliff (13-1) in making its first-ever appearance in a title contest, is the first Dallas-area school to advance to a state championship game since 2004, with no Big D team winning a title since 1958.

On the other hand, Liberty Hill (13-2) are annual participants in long playoff runs, with this being the Panthers’ fourth appearance in a state championship game in three different classifications, winning back-to-back trophies in Class 3A Division II in 2006 and Class 3A Division I in 2007 before losing to La Vega in the Class 4A Division I game in 2018.

All that aside, head coach Kent Walker knows his team is in for quite a challenge in this one, he said.

“South Oak Cliff is the most athletic team we’ve played all season,” said Walker. “They have two really good running backs, a quarterback who can throw and run, and their receiving corps is loaded.”

But, that’s only the skill positions, as the Golden Bears’ offensive line averages 300 pounds, with a defense with speed to burn.

“Defensively, they’re extremely fast to the ball,” said Walker.

Senior quarterback Kevin Henry-Jennings is at the controls of the Golden Bears’ offense, throwing for 2,884 yards and 37 touchdowns with only three interceptions and has also rushed for 304 yards and seven scores on the season.

South Oak Cliff features a two-headed backfield monster made up of seniors Ke’Undrae Hollywood (1,152 yards, 16 touchdowns) and Quaylon Farrar (980, 16), while the wideouts are led by Jamyri Cauley (897 yards, nine touchdowns), Randy Reece (843, 10) and Ky Mathis (640, 11).

South Oak Cliff may be new to the postseason party, but the team it defeated in the other semifinal, Aledo, has won nine state titles since 2009, so despite their relative inexperience in the big game at season’s end, the Golden Bears will certainly present the Panthers with a formidable foe.

Walker said he’s confident his squad can ignore all the noise surrounding the contest.

“We’ve done a good job blocking out distractions – our players have handled it very well,” he said. “We have one goal in mind and that’s to win a state championship game.”

Sophomore sensation Noah Long leads Liberty Hill out of the backfield, with 2,008 yards and 29 touchdowns on the season, while fellow second-year player Joe Pitchford has gained 1,166 yards to go with 16 scores on the season.

Rounding out the Panthers’ Slot-T offense is junior Logan Dyer (930 yards, nine touchdowns) and senior Grady Flinn (824, 11), with senior linebacker Andon Thomas doing his fair share of carrying the ball on offense in recent weeks, picking up 215 yards and five touchdowns in the process.

Of course, Thomas’ stock-and-trade is stopping opposing ballcarriers, leading Liberty Hill with 230 tackles on the season – including an incredible 20 against Crosby last week, while fellow seniors Reid Bynum (145) and Aaron Brewer (114) have all surpassed the century mark in stops.

Both teams are ranked in the top 10 in Class 5A Division II in scoring average and defense, with the Panthers putting up 45.7 points per game while allowing only 14.4 and the Golden Bears scoring 47.9 and allowing 12.2.

Walker said his team wants to avoid the runner-up status they had to settle for the last time they set foot on the field with the big star at the 50-yard-line.

“Three years ago, we brought home second, so this time we want to take it one step further,” he said. “I’m so excited for our kids and our entire community – it’s a great time to be a Liberty Hill Panther.”

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