ALL IN: Liberty Hill one win away from returning to State Championship
At the end of every UIL football season 12 teams get to raise up the trophy and proclaim themselves champions. However with 12 winners, that also means there are 12 runner-ups. One of those teams that finished second last season? Liberty Hill. The Panthers came up short against South Oak Cliff last season 23-14.
To get back to AT&T stadium that meant retooling a defense that only returned 3 starters. But the defense has found it's gear as the season has gone on and is heating up at the right time.
"This wasn't a young defense but an inexperienced one to start the year," said head coach Kent Walker. "The defense has done a great job, the defensive coaches have done a great job and the kids have stepped up."
Helping them along the way has been their offense, which once again has flourished under the Slot-T offensive scheme.
"Let's start with the offensive line, I'm not sure they get enough credit," coach Walker said. "They are a really good unit and I can't say enough about the offensive line. We had over 600 yards of offensive and a lot of that goes to our next man up mentality but some of that goes to our offensive line. They did a terrific job last week."
And while the offensive line is definitely a key to success for this offense, it can't work if the skill players can't make something happen with the holes the offensive line creates. And the quadruple headed monster of Reese Vickers, Joe Pitchford, Noah Long and Ben Barter have done just that while leading the Panthers to their 13-1 record.
"Throughout the year they (the running backs) have been fantastic for us," coach Walker said. ""It's been a great year overall offensively, over 6700 yards, and averaging almost 10 yards a run which is pretty impressive."
The improved defense and the vaunted Slot-T was on full display last week in their 63-43 win over Corpus Christi Flour Bluff.
"We had our hands full, we made a few adjustments and our kids responded really well and played a great second half," said coach Walker. "Our kids stepped up, they had a great second half. We created a few turnovers, the defense played well in the second half, creating 4 turnovers which was the difference in the game."
Now they turn their sights to Port Neches-Groves who defeated Fort Bend Marshall last week 29-21.
"Great football team. Very well coached," coach Walker said. "Coach Joseph in his first year there is doing a fantastic job. They've got a lot of size, they are a big football team and are good in all phases. They've got a talented receiving core, a talented quarterback and a big offensive line. We've got our work cut out but that's what it should be, it's the state semis."
With two games left to bring the state title back to Liberty Hill for the first time since 2007, the Panthers will continue to do what they've done all year: be all in.
"Our mantra this year has been ALL IN. We are all in all the time. That's been our go to rallying cry," said coach Walker. "We focus on us. We focus on getting better each week and each day."
And as to what to expect from the Panthers and their crowd this Friday at Katy's Legacy Stadium?
"We have a great community, I consider it to be the greatest in the state of Texas, we appreciate the support they give us each week and it's been an awesome run and let's see if we can keep this going, round five looking for six."