Panthers end regular season with rout of Northeast

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By Scott Akanewich

After Liberty Hill’s road win last week over Navarro, Panthers head coach Kent Walker preached to his players there was only one more game between them and what they were truly seeking – a chance at another postseason run to match last year’s march all the way to the Class 5A state semifinals.

Consider that box checked with a 59-0 home victory over Northeast in the regular-season finale at Panther Stadium on Friday night.

Liberty Hill head coach Kent Walker said it was a relief to finally have the regular season in the rear-view mirror with the playoffs at hand.

“It’s good to be district champs and to finish district undefeated,” he said. “But, the real season for Liberty Hill football starts next week.”

Joe Pitchford led Liberty Hill with 165 yards on eight carries, including scoring runs of 39 and 33 yards, respectively, in the second quarter of a contest which was never in doubt from the outset.

Following the Raiders’ decision to defer after winning the coin toss, the Panthers received the opening kickoff and actually lost yardage on their first two plays from scrimmage.

However, Logan Dyer took a handoff from quarterback Reese Vickers on a 3rd-and-18 on the Liberty Hill 44-yard-line and rumbled 56 yards for the game’s opening points and a quick 7-0 advantage after only 1:20 had elapsed off the game clock.

The Panthers took only a pair of plays for Pitchford to score his first touchdown of the night after a Northeast three-and-out on its first possession of the game and a 14-0 lead.

After another Raiders punt, Dyer fumbled on the opening play of the following series, but was picked up by teammate Reid Bynum when the senior linebacked pounced on a Northeast fumble – his first recovery of two on the night – on the ensuing series.

At that point, the Purple-and-Gold launched its longest offensive march of the game, moving 84 yards on 12 plays, finished off by Pitchford’s second score to make it 21-0.

A trio of Panthers ballcarriers scored rushing touchdowns in the second quarter, including Noah Long from 48 yards out, followed by senior Grady Flinn (21 yards) and Dyer (40 yards) before senior kicker Ethan Minix closed the opening-half scoring with a 30-yard field goal as time ran out for a commanding 45-0 lead.

Northeast’s only scoring threat of the game was on its final possession when it put together a 13-play, 69-yard drive against Liberty Hill’s backup defense before missing a field goal attempt as time expired to preserve the Panthers’ shutout.

Earlier, Gavin Salinas ran one in from 27 yards out and Flinn added his second with an 18-yard run – both in the third quarter – to close out the scoring.

Dyer ran for 118 yards on five carries, as Liberty Hill rushed for 464 yards in all for the game.

Liberty Hill (8-2, 6-0) will open the playoffs at home against Bastrop (4-6, 3-3) – the No. 4 seed from District 13 – next Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Walker said his squad is more seasoned than last year when they hadn’t faced difficult opposition before beginning the postseason.

“No question,” he said. “Marble Falls and McCallum gave us a couple good games this year, so we feel a little more tested.”

As far as the opening-round opponent Bears are concerned, Walker was already wary of the potential threat they pose.

“Moving forward, Bastrop has a lot of great athletes and they’re well-coached,” he said. “We’ll have our hands full.”

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