Panthers hope to kick mules
By Scott Akanewich
While looking down the season stats for Alamo Heights’ football team, there are no numbers that simply jump out as warning signs to opponents – the kind of red flags and alarm bells which keep coaches up at night in trying to find a way to neutralize.
However, just because the Mules are bereft of gaudy individual statistics doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous as a collective.
“They’re just extremely sound and a well-coached football team,” said Liberty Hill head coach Kent Walker. “They’re disciplined and have a lot of really good players.”
What all this means is when Liberty Hill (11-2) steps onto the field at Bobcat Stadium on the campus of Texas State University in San Marcos on Friday to face Alamo Heights (13-0) in a Class 5A Division II regional final matchup, the Panthers will certainly have their work cut out for them.
But, after being severely tested for the first time this playoff season by Rouse in a 56-33 victory over the Raiders, Walker believes his squad has what it takes to continue progressing through the bracket.
In fact, he said the adversity his players faced in overcoming a 14-point deficit nearly halfway through that contest will only bode well moving forward.
“I think we really needed the Rouse game,” said Walker. “Our kids needed it to gain more confidence.”
No more was this true than in the defensive secondary, where Rouse quarterback Mason Shorb had shredded the unit with touchdown passes of 61 and 71 yards in the first and second quarters, respectively.
“We thought we could do a few things defensively against them,” said Walker. “But, we made a few adjustments and put in an extra defensive back when we needed to in certain situations – it has a lot to do with the team you’re playing.”
Whatever Walker and his coaches did with the Xs and Os worked, as the Panthers outscored the Raiders by a 35-6 margin in the second half on the way to victory.
Alamo Heights doesn’t have a gunslinger the caliber of Shorb under center, but in 6-foot-4, 201-pound senior James Sobey, the Mules have a signal-caller who is certainly proficient in running an offense which is well-balanced.
Sobey has thrown for 2,007 yards with 26 touchdowns against only seven interceptions this season and is also the Mules’ second-leading rusher with 327 yards and six scores, while leading the Alamo Heights ground attack is senior George Flesher, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound back who has gained 916 yards on 170 carries to go with four touchdowns.
Curiously, the Mules’ leading receiver – 5-foot-11, 170-pound junior Rett Andersen – has 957 yards, which is more than their leading rusher, which might lead one to believe Alamo Heights favors the air over the ground, but not the case, said Walker.
“They’re about a 60-40 run-pass offense,” he said. “As opposed to Rouse, who are about the opposite.”
Yardage and points continue to be no problem for the Panthers’ offense.
In fact, as the pressure has gone up with the degree of difficulty in the postseason, so too have Liberty Hill’s offensive numbers, as the Panthers are averaging 521.3 rushing yards and 54.6 points per game through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
The Panthers’ defense has also posted impressive returns of allowing only 18 points per game, a stat skewed by the 33 against Rouse after having allowed only 21 combined in the opening two rounds against Bastrop and Boerne Champion.
A trio of Liberty Hill senior defenders hit double-digits in tackles against Rouse in linebacker Andon Thomas (13), safety Aaron Brewer (12) and linebacker Devin Riley (11), while Brewer and senior defensive end Lloyd Johnson, Jr. recorded sacks in the contest.
Despite the prospect of facing an undefeated team with a trip to the state semifinals at stake, Walker remains as focused as ever on his own team and not the opposition.
“We understand what Alamo Heights wants to do,” he said. “But, we just want to keep getting better than we were last Friday.”