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Burnet's Joel Johnson catches a pass against Liberty Hill in the Bulldogs' state quarterfinals loss Dec. 5. Photo by Pablo Rivera
JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF
AUSTIN — In a game featuring powered offenses, it was the defenses that decided the outcome in a Class 4A Division I state quarterfinal match between Burnet High School (11-3) and Liberty Hill (12-2) on Dec. 5.
The Panthers won 23-15 after recovering a fumble on an early snap to advance to face the winner of the Navasota-Henderson game, which will be played Dec. 6.
Before that, Burnet senior defensive lineman Devontre Alexander recovered a fumble with two minutes 25 seconds left in the game to give the Bulldogs a chance.
“Super proud of our kids,” Burnet head coach Kurt Jones said. “That’s a trait of Burnet kids. They’re never going to quit.”
After playing to a 7-7 halftime tie, Liberty Hill senior kicker Lucas Rizzotto kicked a 37-yard field goal after the Panthers recovered a fumble.
Burnet’s next possession resulted in a punt. Panthers junior tailback Caleb Guerin ran 69 yards to pay dirt to increase the lead to 16-7.
Then, the Bulldogs drove to the Panthers’ 21 but turned the ball over on downs.
So the Panthers used a heavy dose of junior fullback Jon Shannon, who finished with 152 yards on 36 carries. He had 11 carries during the 13-play drive. But senior Jason Reeves scored the 18-yard touchdown on a lateral from senior Christian Anderson on a fake field goal.
“We felt like we needed to do something,” Liberty Hill head coach Jerry Vance said. “Sometimes, you have to roll the dice, go to Vegas and see if sevens come up.”
And when it seemed like the game was finished, the Bulldogs’ resiliency appeared.
With 4:06 left, the Bulldogs drove 65 yards in seven plays for a score thanks to a three-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Austin Moore.
The Panthers recovered the onside kick that set up Alexander’s fumble recovery.
Before they took the field, Vance talked to his defense.
“It’s all up to you,” he said. “Defensive line, you have to make stops, put some pressure on them.
“A large part of this was our kids’ composure,” he added. “Our kids have been there before. They did a great job.”
The first two series of the contest brought the Bulldogs fans to their feet.
Though Liberty Hill went on a seven-play drive, Burnet forced a punt.
The Bulldogs’ first offensive play resulted in a fumble. But when Moore hit senior receiver Cody Jones on a 46-yard pass on third-and-14, it was apparent the drive would end with a touchdown.
That happened seven plays later when Johnson caught an eight-yard pass. The drive covered 92 yards. Senior kicker Alex Melvin added the extra point.
The Panthers responded in the second quarter, going 76 yards on six plays that ended when senior tailback Hunter Lindsay scored from a yard out.
The Burnet defense made a final stand. The Panthers drove 49 yards in 16 plays to the Bulldogs’ five. But the Bulldogs held on fourth-and-1. The drive took six minutes and 30 seconds.
Each team had a total of four offensive series in the first half.
“When we had the ball, we didn’t do anything with it,”Jones said. “Anytime you score seven points in a half, you feel frustrated.”
Moore completed 17 of 30 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown. Junior receiver Joel Johnson caught seven passes for 145 yards. Burnet rushed for 43 yards, all unofficial.
The Panthers ran for 358 yards on 61 carries. They did not complete a pass.
“Their blueprint for success has worked well for them,” Jones said. “They controlled the entire game.”
The Bulldogs never quit, he said, which is a testament to the program and community.
“I’m proud of our kids,” he said, “and proud for our community.”