REMATCH WITH CHAMPION IN THE CARDS
By Scott Akanewich
Plenty of familiar faces will be across the line of scrimmage on Friday night at Farris Stadium in San Antonio when Liberty Hill takes on Boerne Champion in a rematch of last year’s second-round clash between the Panthers and Chargers, in which the Purple-and-Gold prevailed by a 41-0 score.
Both teams enter the contest with identical 9-2 records on the season after a campaign that saw Champion finish second in the District 15 standings behind undefeated Alamo Heights. They are led on offense by 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior quarterback Karson Kaiser and senior running back Alex Rodriguez, who form a pass-run threat to Liberty Hill’s offense, said Panthers head coach Kent Walker.
“They have a good quarterback, a good running back and three good wide receivers,” he said. “They have a good scheme offensively and are well-balanced, so we’ll have our hands full.”
The Chargers are coming off a stirring 36-29 win over Mercedes in the opening round and are primed and ready for another shot at the Purple-and-Gold after being ousted by them from last year’s postseason, said Walker.
“After beating them last year, they’ve been waiting a year for this,” he said. “So, it’s going to be a tough test – they’re a fundamentally-sound team and their kids play hard on defense.”
While Champion needed a late touchdown to defeat Mercedes, the Panthers had no such problems in putting Bastrop out to pasture Nov. 12 in a 57-7 home win that was about as comprehensive on both sides of the ball as one will see in a playoff game.
Liberty Hill rushed for an astounding 520 yards on 58 carries by eight different ballcarriers, led by sophomore Noah Long, who cranked out a season-high 209 yards on 21 attempts with four touchdowns and is now up to 1,446 yards and 24 scores on the season.
Defensively for Liberty Hill, senior linebackers Andon Thomas and Reid Bynum each had 12 tackles against Bastrop, while senior Devin Riley added eight and had a pair of sacks on the evening.
Champion features a spread offense and although the Panthers’ run defense has been solid all season, the secondary has been prone to the long pass – although they responded in kind when tested by Bastrop.
Still, Kaiser and the weapons he has at his disposal in pulling the trigger of the Chargers’ offense gives Walker cause for concern, he said.
“It scares me they’re good,” said Walker. “But, if we can get pressure on the quarterback and make him get rid of the ball quickly, it’ll be a big part of the game. There’s no doubt we’ll have our work cut out for us.”
However, despite the threat Champion poses, Walker said he’s confident in his defense stepping up once again like it did against Bastrop in an even bigger challenge against the Chargers.
“Our kids played their best defensively in that game,” he said. “It was about as well as we’ve played all year, but this week, we’ll need to play better than we have all season again.”