Vickers sparks Panthers to 45-16 win over McCallum

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By Scott Akanewich

When Reese Vickers found out he was going to be under center when Liberty Hill took the field at House Park against district rival McCallum after starter Will Szewczyk was ruled out with an injury, the junior signal-caller was understandably a bit overwhelmed.

“I was pretty nervous at first,” said Vickers, who was told on Wednesday he would be the Panthers’ starting quarterback when Szewczyk was diagnosed with a broken arm which will cause the senior to miss the rest of the season. “It lasted up until the first snap of the game, but after that it was easier.”

Easy enough for Vickers to lead Liberty Hill to a 45-16 victory over the Knights in a contest that saw the Panthers pressured for the first time in district play this season following blowout wins in its opening pair of league games.

Noah Long rushed for 235 yards on 16 carries and three touchdowns on the evening, but it was Vickers who was calm and cool at the controls of the Panthers’ offense all night, as Liberty Hill racked up 457 yards rushing in all from seven different ballcarriers.

However, it was senior kicker Ethan Minix who put the first points of the night on the board with a 23-yard field goal after the Knights had received the opening kickoff and moved the ball 13 yards on 10 plays before failing on a 4th-and-2 from their own 46-yard line when senior linebacker Andon Thomas stuffed a McCallum player in preventing the first down.

Long ran 43 yards on the Panthers’ first play from scrimmage, resulting in Minix’s kick three plays later for a 3-0 lead with 5:50 left in the opening quarter.

After McCallum was forced to punt on its next possession, the visitors embarked on an eight-play, 71-yard drive highlighted by senior Grady Flinn’s 21-yard gain after being sprung by fullback Drake Torno’s crunching block before Flinn finished off the drive with a five-yard run to make the score 10-0 after one quarter of play.

Long put the cherry on top of a 10-play, 65-yard drive with a 19-yard scoring run for his second of the game to make it 17-0 with 8:47 left in the second quarter and it looked as if Liberty Hill was on its way to its third consecutive district blowout.

But, McCallum sophomore kicker Dash Levy had other ideas, kicking a booming, 44-yard field goal to open the Knights’ scoring account on the evening in making it a 17-3 score.

Notable on the Panthers’ part was the fact the points were the first the Liberty Hill defense had allowed in a district game stretching back to its first Class 5A campaign last year – a span of eight-plus games in which opposing offenses had failed to score.

Apparently, nobody in Purple-and-Gold was fazed by the doughnut on the scoreboard disappearing, as on the ensuing possession, fullback Logan Dyer gained 13 yards on a run up the middle on the first play of the series before Vickers took the snap on the next play and rumbled 52 yards through the entire Knights’ defense and a 24-3 advantage.

Vickers said he had earlier picked up on a weakness in the Knights’ defense which led to the play.

“Every time I carried out my fake, there was a lot of room to run,” he said.

Following his sprint across the goal line, Vickers was a bit surprised with his speed and acceleration.

“My teammates told me I was going pretty fast,” said Vickers, of his weaving jaunt during which he eluded multiple defenders. “But, I didn’t feel like I was running that fast.”

Meanwhile, McCallum’s offense was nothing if not persistent in moving the ball against the Panthers’ defense with some success while employing a Wildcat offense in which quarterback Jaxson Rosales would take the snap and run the ball or pitch it to a running back option-style after drawing in defenders.

The Knights took over on their own 31-yard line and moved the ball to the Liberty Hill 9, where they set up 1st-and-goal – with the help of a personal-foul call on Liberty Hill, but failed to get the ball in the end zone and settled for another Levy field goal, this one from 22 yards out and it was 24-6, which was where the contest stayed at halftime.

However, just when the home team had perhaps restored some hope, Long dashed that notion with a stunning 55-yard scoring dash on the first play from scrimmage of the second half with a sprint down the left sideline and a 31-6 Liberty Hill lead.

But, the Knights proved pesky and after scoring the first district points of the season against the Panthers’ defense, they added the first touchdown.

After taking over on his own 35-yard line, Rosales lofted a 3rd-and-8 pass long down the left sideline, which was hauled in for a 51-yard gain resulting in a 1st-and-10 at the Panthers’ 12-yard line.

Following a negative run and an incompletion, Rosales once again found his target on a 3rd-and-16 pass to to wide receiver David Houston for an 18-yard touchdown in making the score 31-13.

Liberty Hill fumbled the ball back to McCallum on the second play of the ensuing possession and the Knights capitalized with Levy’s third field goal of the game from 34 yards out, reducing the deficit to 31-16.

Liberty Hill was then forced into a three-and-out and it seemed as if the Knights had momentum in mounting a possible fightback.

But, once again, it was snuffed out when Rosales attempted to throw the ball out-of-bounds to avoid a sack with heavy pressure forcing him out of the pocket, but was only able to hoist a high-arcing pass which attracted a trio of Panthers defenders like bees to honey.

Senior Reid Bynum laid out and made a diving play on the ball when it finally fell back to earth short of its intended destination on the sideline in effectively ending any hops of a comeback.

Long and Flinn each added scoring runs of 23 and eight yards, respectively, in the fourth quarter to once and for all bring the curtain down on the Knights.

Liberty Hill head coach Kent Walker said it was good for his team to have finally been tested in a game which was perhaps more hotly-contested than the score indicated.

“They made us play four quarters tonight,” he said, of the game effort put forth by the home team. “The great thing is we haven’t had to do that – our kids had to play and I’m proud of them.”

As for the composure showed by Vickers in his first varsity start, Walker approved of his performance.

“Reese only found out two days ago he was playing and he came in a did an outstanding job for us in a big-time game,” he said. “But, I can’t say enough about Will Szewczyk – he’s a tough kid.”

Szewczyk initially suffered the injury during the Panthers’ 41-34 home loss to LBJ three weeks ago, but it was first diagnosed as a bone contusion, so the senior played the next two games before it was properly diagnosed after x-rays revealed the fracture to his right arm, which will keep him out for the balance of the current campaign.

In addition to his running exploits, Vickers also showed off his throwing ability with pass attempts on back-to-back plays – unheard of in the Panthers’ Slot-T offense – among four attempts on the game, nearly connecting with Joe Pitchford on a potential long touchdown in the third quarter on a 3rd-and-9 play.

“We just needed a lot of yards,” said Vickers.

Walker was a bit displeased at the Panthers’ defense having finally allowed points – no less six at once.

“We didn’t play very well, made a few mistakes and had some penalties called on us,” he said. “We hadn’t given up a touchdown.”

Liberty Hill (5-2, 3-0) will host Marble Falls next Friday in a game which will undoubtedly decide who will reign supreme once the dust has settled on the regular season.

“Marble Falls runs the same offense we do, so we’ll have our hands full,” Walker said of the Mustangs’ version of the Slot-T. “So, it’ll be for the district championship.”

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