KILLEEN, Texas – It’s no secret that District 13-4A Div. I is one of the best in the state.
That’s why it’s no surprise that the league’s top two teams, Waco La Vega (13-0) and Liberty Hill, are meeting in the Class 4A Div. I Regional Final.
“We know we have a great district,” said Liberty Hill (10-2) coach Jeff Walker. “You got to play good teams to be a good football team. We (knew) obviously (if we) could get through our district, we’re a pretty good football team.”
La Vega won the regular season matchup 33-18, but the game was closer than the score indicates. Liberty Hill’s goal of controlling the clock and limiting possessions worked perfectly in the first half, running 40 plays compared to La Vega’s eight.
But the scoreboard still wasn’t in its favor. When halftime came, turnovers and missed opportunities allowed the Pirates to have a 12-3 lead.
Liberty Hill scored in the third quarter to cut the deficit to two. La Vega responded with a rushing onslaught to pull away.
“We can’t turn the ball over,” Walker said. “Our (second) drive got inside the 10-yard line, fumbled and they picked it up and ran all the way back in. We got to capitalize on stuff like that. We were inside the five twice and didn’t get in. Time ran out on the half one time and then we fumbled it one time, and against good teams you can’t shoot yourself in the foot. So we got to protect the ball, be happy with three or four yards a pop.”
The Pirates have been one of the best teams at this level the last three years. Its 42-1 record and state championship in 2015 are impressive. They finished off their third-straight perfect regular season this year. What’s even more impressive is it has not been challenged in the playoffs. Its three wins are by an average of 30 points.
La Vega runs the ball 73.6 percent of the time and has three dangerous running backs in junior John Richards, senior Cameron Henry and senior Kemoche Hobbs.
Senior quarterback Jamal Williams has completed 110-of-171 passes for 1,675 yards and 17 touchdowns with six interceptions. The Pirate defense is giving up nine points a game and is especially efficient at forcing turnovers. Junior safety Donta Stuart leads the unit with nine interceptions.
“You got to have jim and joe’s,” La Vega coach Willie Williams said. “Of course, we got them, and then you have to buy into the program. Everybody’s got a job, and that’s what we emphasize. We get you to buy in and believe in what we’re doing and it’s not about you, it’s about us and just staying focused, and I think that’s the big thing. Is that we go into every ball game focused because you got a target on your back so you just have to go out there and put your best foot forward.”
Liberty Hill is led by junior running back Kyle Harrison, who’s rushed for 2,526 yards. But pay too much attention to Harrison, and seniors Hunter Oncken or Elijah Davis will punch you in the mouth.
That’s the beauty of the slot-t offense. It uses multiple ball carriers, fakes and misdirections to fool the defense.
The Panther offense has been near unstoppable with an average of 45.9 points per game, but the defense has been susceptible. Liberty Hill is surrendering 32.3 points per game and has allowed opponents to break 40 five times.
It would be a lot worse, however, if the Panthers didn’t have a few studs in junior defensive back Wyatt Cheney, linebacker Grant Supack and linebacker Ethan Thom.
“It’s just this has been one of the worst years I’ve ever had for injuries. We just have been extremely beat up all year,” Walker said. “We’ve lost five kids for the year that were starters earlier. It’s hard to overcome that kind of stuff at a small school but the kids that are suiting up every week are definitely playing hard and getting better.
“It’s just that we haven’t been healthy for one game this year so it’s been kind of frustrating as a coach.”
Kickoff is Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen.
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