Panthers picking up the pieces

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By Scott Akanewich

Liberty Hill’s football squad faced a tall task this week in cleaning up the myriad errors they made in the season-opening 12-7 home defeat to Ellison.

One player who sensed the urgency was senior Chance Pogue.

“We’re going to get better,” he said. “We’ve already fixed a lot of things.”

The Panthers’ offensive line committed eight false-start penalties over the course of the contest, which came as an utter shock to head coach Kent Walker.

“We were fine in the scrimmages and we’ve been practicing since May,” said Walker. “I don’t like to make excuses, but I think our kids were thinking too much and were afraid to make mistakes.”

Pogue agreed with Walker’s assessment.

“As the game progressed, we let our mistakes get to us,” he said. “We were worried about making even more.”

Along those psychological lines, Pogue stressed the importance of going out and executing the offense as if it’s second nature.

“The way we run our offense, it needs to be as easy as breathing for us,” he said. “Football needs to be instinctual.”

Pogue said he and his fellow linemen had impromptu meetings on the sidelines during the game to address the issues that continued to plague them throughout.

“When we come off the field, we’ll go sit on the bench and our coaches will come up to us,” he said. “They’ll make comments, tell us what we can do better the next time we see a particular play or if the other team is doing something we didn’t anticipate, to make adjustments.”

The Panthers’ defense was strong against Ellison in allowing only six points – as the Eagles’ other touchdown was a return after a botched field-goal attempt – which cast even more of the spotlight on the offense’s shortcomings in producing only a single score.

“There’s a lot of pressure on us,” said Pogue. “We see our brothers go out there and fight and then we nickel-and-dime by jumping offside, which really kills momentum.”

However, on the Panthers’ final possession of the contest, the line finally seemed to get its act together in producing a 20-play, 85-yard drive, which resulted in sophomore Noah Long’s 14-yard touchdown run for Liberty Hill’s only points of the game.

But, following further review in the film room on Saturday morning, Pogue still wasn’t happy with what he saw.

“It wasn’t the kind of drive we want,” he said. “The camera sees everything.”

With that being the case, Walker said he needed no further illustration of the offensive struggles than what he witnessed firsthand on Friday night with his own eyes.

“Not at all,” he said.

In addition to the penalties – which included a pair of chop blocks – the Panthers also fumbled six times, recovering three, which caused concern on the part of Walker in the ball-security department, he said.

“Also something we need to do a better job of,” said Walker. “But, we have drills to implement that.”

The news was much better on the other side of the line of scrimmage, as the Liberty Hill defense was solid all night in keeping the Panthers in the game – a fact Walker attributed to the experience that exists in the unit – something sorely lacking on the other side of the ball.

“Our defense was playing fast,” said Walker. “It also helps a lot when you have someone like (senior linebacker) Andon Thomas out there leading the defense – it’s like having a coach on the field.”

Back to offense, though.

Ellison – a Class 6A school – featured a defensive line that outweighed the Liberty Hill offensive line by as much as 100 pounds in certain positions, but that’s certainly nothing new for them and usually a factor they overcome – if they execute properly, said Pogue.

“I’m looking at the film and I see myself standing straight up against a guy who’s 6-5, 285,” he said. “It’s very frustrating to make mistakes we’re coached not to. But, we’re confident we came come back and do better.”

Walker added he believes his players simply need to just go out and let it go.

“Our kids need to have fun playing the game they love,” he said. “Not be uptight or sorry about mistakes because as coaches, we make mistakes, too. Nobody calls or plays a perfect game.”

Despite 11 new starters on offense this season, Walker certainly isn’t using that as an alibi for the early struggles, either.

“We just need to do a better job,” he said. “We didn’t play Liberty Hill football.”

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