Unbeaten Panthers to host McCallum
By Scott Akanewich
After seeing his team win its opening pair of district games by scores of 76-0 and 86-0, head coach Jeff Walker is looking for something – anything – in the way of a competitive game for his club.
Listening to the veteran coach, he just might get what he’s wishing for in a visit from McCallum at Panther Stadium on Oct. 23.
“They’re the best team we’ve played so far this season,” said Walker. “They’re pretty fast defensively and they run to the ball faster than anyone we’ve seen.”
So, the Knights should present more of a challenge for the Panthers – critical word being should.
McCallum has played only a single contest thus far this fall, a 14-7 road loss to fellow capitol dwellers Anderson on Oct. 2, which perhaps indicates an uptick in quality over both Crockett and Travis – or at least, Walker thinks so.
“We’re going to have to play our best to beat these guys,” he said. “They’re well-coached, they play extremely hard and they look like really strong kids.”
Walker could’ve been describing his own squad.
In fact, the Panthers have outscored opponents by a combined 250-52 margin this season, which equates to averaging 63 points per game on offense, while allowing only 13 on defense – a 50-points-per-game spread.
Of course, there’s no question most of the lopsided numbers so far are due to the strength – or obvious lack thereof – the Panthers have faced from their new district foes, but Liberty Hill has clearly done enough to currently be ranked No. 10 by Texas Football in the latest Class 5A weekly poll.
Not bad for a school who has only begun to work its way through a new, higher classification.
Senior Trey Seward leads Liberty Hill with 57 carries for 556 yards and eight touchdowns, while Blake Simpson has run for 531 yards on 53 attempts and six scores and Eric De La Cruz has racked up 40 carries for 408 yards and seven touchdowns, as all three primary Panthers backs are averaging over 100 yards per contest.
Most impressive of all concerning the Purple-and-Gold stable of runners is yards-per-carry with all three gaining about 10 yards every time one of them touches the ball in De La Cruz (10.2), Simpson (10) and Seward (9.8).
When an offense is getting a first down on almost every rushing play, there’s really no need to put the ball in the air, so after senior quarterback Charlie Calabretta had thrown four touchdown passes in Liberty Hill’s first three games, the signal-caller was limited to only a single attempt last week against Travis, which fell incomplete.
Perhaps kicker Ethan Minix is the most tired player on the roster, as the junior has already been called upon to boot 32 extra points this season, making 29.
On defense, all-everything linebacker Andon Thomas continues to lead Liberty Hill with 42 tackles – an average of 10.5 stops per game, including seven for loss – but fellow junior defensive lineman Lloyd Johnson has been getting his share of the licks in lately, including a 10-tackle performance against Travis and a team-leading three sacks on the season.
Despite the fact his team has dramatically cut down on the turnovers and penalties which plagued them in the season’s first two games, Walker still isn’t quite sold on if the improvements are genuine or simply a matter of the nature of the past two contests.
“In tight games, we haven’t done very well with those things when there’s been a little pressure,” he said. “McCallum could frustrate us offensively, so we just need to be patient and hope we can control the ball.”
So, what kind of contest will we see?
Walker hopes he gets what he’s wishing for, but at the same time, is a bit wary of that very prospect, he said.
“This week is going to be an all-around tougher game,” said Walker. “It’s what we need, but it’s scary.”