Panthers hit the road to face the Eagles

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By Scott Akanewich

Seems as if Liberty Hill’s non-district football was designed to increase the degree of difficulty each week in the month leading up to the district schedule.

Following an opening-week encounter with Ellison, the Panthers took on another Class 6A school in Del Valle and this week, the Purple-and-Gold will make the short trip to Georgetown to face the Eagles in their first road contest of the season.

Like Liberty Hill, Georgetown has also split its opening two games of the season – both also against Class 6A competition – in losing the opener at home to Belton, 35-31, before rebounding with a 62-39 away win against Copperas Cove.

Offense doesn’t seem to be an issue for the Eagles, as they’ve already scored 93 points combined in the first two weeks of the season – in large part to the array of weapons Georgetown head coach Chuck Griffin has at his disposal.

Perhaps the most formidable foe the Panthers will find themselves against is Eagles senior quarterback Darson Herman, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound signal-caller who is as much of a threat with his legs as with his arm, said Liberty Hill head coach Kent Walker.

“He’s a great dual-threat quarterback with a lot of weapons,” said Walker. “They like to throw a lot of numbers around to get a favorable matchup on one side of the field or the other.”

Although the Panthers can’t quite match the Eagles’ offensive firepower – at least, not on paper – they are coming off a 62-6 home victory over Del Valle, as they rushed for 318 yards and seven touchdowns, led by sophomore Noah Long, who carried 22 times for 151 yards and five scores.

The Panthers’ offensive showcase was more akin to the numbers they usually produce after only managing a single touchdown in the season-opening defeat to Ellison, but the Purple-and-Gold defense has been on point in both contests, only allowing 12 points combined so far this season.

Senior Hollis Brady had a breakthrough performance after subbing for starter Gannon Mixson at defensive end in compiling seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, while senior linebacker Andon Thomas continues to lead the Panthers defense with 18 tackles through two games, followed closely by Reid Bynum (13), Drake Torno (12) and Carlton Schrank (11).

Georgetown’s defense is similar to his own, said Walker.

“Defensively, they’re a lot like us,” he said. “They know how to play the game the right way and that’s hard – they’re a well-coached team.”

After more-than-ably filling in for starter Gavin Salinas – who will still be missing from the lineup this week – sophomore Joe Pitchford will once again line up in the Liberty Hill backfield alongside Long and Logan Dyer.

Pitchford’s strong shift last week didn’t surprise Walker – despite his unfamiliarity with the position.

“Joe’s always been a quarterback coming up,” said Walker. “But, he’s always been able to run the ball.”

Dyer has also produced thus far in a starting role in grinding out tough yards between the tackles, but Walker said he’s capable of much more.

“Logan’s done pretty well,” he said. “But, we’re looking for him to stick it up in there a little more and break off some long runs.”

Following the first-week disaster, Walker said his squad is now resembling the team he wants to see from here on out.

“We’re finally starting to like what we’re seeing from our players,” he said. “So, this game offers us an opportunity – we’re always looking for something to build off to get better.”

The Panthers were scheduled to host Georgetown last season before the game was wiped away due to the shortened season, meaning this year’s matchup provides a boost that was absent last year, said Walker.

“A team like Georgetown is a great challenge at this time of the year – it’s the game I most would’ve liked to have had last season,” he said. “They’re a team who’s had success and reminds me of what we faced in the playoffs last season – particularly Rouse – it’s going to give us more things to work on.”

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