Panthers blow out Cougars in district opener, 62-0


By Scott Akanewich

AUSTIN — Junior varsity football players dream of when they’ll get their chance to shine under the Friday night lights as members of the varsity squad.

However, for some young Panthers understudies, they got their first taste of life playing with the big boys in Liberty Hill’s 62-0 district-opening victory over Crockett on Friday at Burger Stadium in Austin.

Six different Liberty Hill players scored touchdowns on the evening, but by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, even the varsity backups were cooling their jets on the sidelines, while some of the Purple-and-Gold’s future was on display in the form of several JV players who had been called up for the contest making their varsity debuts.

As a result, there was no scoring in the final period, but for all intents and purposes, the game had long been decided by that point in the proceedings.

However, it was the Cougars who actually chalked up the game’s initial first down, after Crockett had won the coin flip and received the opening kick.

But, the hosts’ good fortune didn’t last long, as on the next play after moving the chains, Liberty Hill nose tackle Drake Torno recovered a fumble at the Crockett 33-yard line and it only took three plays from there for Joe Pitchford to cash in the Cougars’ mistake with a 13-yard touchdown run to open the scoring and give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with only a little over two minutes gone.

After Noah Long got in on the scoring act with a 20-yard sprint for a 14-0 lead before even the halfway point of the first quarter, the Panthers’ defense joined the early points parade, as Aaron Brewer picked up a fumble on a botched Crockett punt attempt and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown before Torno recovered his second fumble of the night, only this one in the Cougars’ end zone after Colin Brandt had hammered a Crockett ballcarrier on a 3rd-and-10 at the home team’s 15-yard-line and jarred the ball loose.

Walker said it’s gratifying to see his defenders pick up points on the score sheet.

“It’s always a lot of fun for a defensive lineman to get a touchdown,” he said, of Torno’s recovery. “Also, it’s good we got Brewer one, too.”

Just like that, it was 28-0 after only one quarter of play, an advantage the Panthers would extend to 42-0 at the half following another pair of Liberty Hill touchdowns in the second quarter.

Logan Dyer finished off a 10-play, 60-yard scoring drive with a three-yard plunge before the Panthers pulled one out of the passing playbook for the second week in a row.

After Pitchford found Gavin Salinas in the end zone on an option pass the previous week against LBJ, once again it was the junior running back on the business end of a scoring strike, only this time it was junior signal-caller Reese

Vickers who pulled the trigger after subbing in for senior starter Will Szewczyk on the play with a six-yard connection through the air in the back-right corner of the end zone.

At the outset of the second half, Liberty Hill’s starters weren’t around long, but not before Long scored his second touchdown of the game on a 33-yard run only three plays into the third quarter before Salinas and Pitchford each scored their second of the night on runs of seven and one yard, respectively, to close out the scoring.

As far as the fourth quarter was concerned, Walker was more than happy to provide those select youngsters a chance to perform on the big stage – even if it did come at the starters’ expense, he said.

“I’m glad we got to get those kids some valuable varsity experience,” he said. “Although it’s tough for our starters to sit out – they didn’t want to sit. But, I joked with them about running them after the game because we need to stay in shape.”

Long once again led Liberty Hill with 103 yards on six carries on a relatively light night of work for the sophomore sensation, but the Panthers’ leading rusher was also glad to see some of the younger players who are still his peers get some game action.

“At first, it’s hard to sit out,” he said. “But, then I get to see some of my sophomore buddies out there getting a chance to play.”
Liberty Hill (3-2, 1-0) will next host Travis next Friday at 7:30 p.m, but for the time being, it’s mission accomplished for his squad, said Walker.

“I’m proud of our kids – we’re 1-0 in district,” he said. “I’m proud of the effort.”