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Hippos edge out Panthers in OT Thriller

Photo: Stan Martin Texas Sports Monthly

Hippos edge out Panthers in OT Thriller

Some games neither team deserves to lose. Friday’s non-district clash between Liberty Hill and Hutto at Hippo Stadium in Hutto, TX, was one of those games.
The Panthers and Hippos went punch-for-punch in a high-scoring bonanza before a two-point conversion stop in overtime gave Hutto the 52-51 win.
“We knew we were going to have a hard time stopping them,” said Hutto coach Brad LaPlante. “That team will play four or five rounds deep (in the playoffs). But I hope that’s also a sign that we’ll play four of five rounds deep, too. It’s not that their defense was bad. It’s not that our defense was bad. We’re two really good offensive football teams.”
Hutto had the ball at Liberty Hill’s 18-yard line with an eight-point lead and barely more than five minutes to go after senior linebacker Hunter Blair recovered a fumbled snap by the Panthers. A score likely would’ve put it away, but the Hippos gave it right back when senior running Chux Nwabuko fumbled a swing pass on the next play.
Liberty Hill took advantage of its second life with a 12-play, 66-yard drive that ended with junior quarterback Jacob Clearly sneaking it in from one yard out with 23 seconds left. Still needing a two-point conversion to tie, senior running back Shane Gonzalez powered through the Hippo defense to reach the end zone and silence a Hutto crowd that was getting increasingly raucous throughout the second half.
Hutto scored on the opening possession of overtime when senior quarterback Chase Griffin placed a perfect pass on the right cornerback’s back shoulder and senior wide receiver Caleb Forrest made the necessary adjustment for the 15-yard touchdown. Liberty Hill scored on its first overtime possession, too, with an 11-yard touchdown run from senior Kyle Harrison.
Rather than take the extra point and force another overtime, however, Liberty Hill coach Jeff Walker decided to go for the win. He called for a handoff to senior running back Connor Kuykendall, but the handoff was awkward and Hutto’s defense collapsed on the ball and made the game-saving stop at the one-yard line to send its sideline and crowd into a euphoric eruption.
“Well, you call a timeout, settle your kids down. Whatever else happened, it doesn’t matter to that point. If we can make one play, game’s over,” LaPlante said. “We just needed that one stop.”

Griffin completed 30-of-44 passes for 455 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions as he continues to make his case for best quarterback in the state. His top target was Forrest, who hauled in 10 grabs for 230 yards and four touchdowns. Nwabaku took six carries for 31 yards and added seven catches for 52 yards with a 16-yard score. Junior wide receiver Dajon Harrison had six receptions for 76 yards and rushed for 31 yards on three jet-sweeps.
“Offensively, I think I did a good job, along with the receivers, O-line and the running backs of just sticking to what we know,” Griffin said. “We know that we can take five yards and turn it into ten yards with our playmakers. Kudos to the O-line and kudos to all the playmakers who really extended yards after catch… They don’t blitz a whole bunch. They’re very steady. But we saw we had some athletic advantages on the outside so just kept on trying to get the ball to the perimeter.”
Liberty Hill racked up 585 total yards, with 531 of those coming on the ground, as its Slot-T offense flummoxed Hutto’s defense with its bevy of fakes and misdirections. 302 of those yards came on 21 carries from Harrison, who scored five touchdowns. Kuykendall also hit the century mark with 113 yards on 15 totes. Gonzalez plugged away for another 87 yards on 17 attempts.
“You don’t prepare for a team like that every week,” LaPlante said.  “Our defense can stop our offense in practice. They feel really good. They have a lot of confidence. They have to understand what they’re going against in that machine, and just the different type of offense that of these kids may have never seen. Maybe youth football, fourth grade. Some of them, they haven’t seen it, and that’s OK. That’s why you didn’t see our coaches get down. We kept on playing… and eventually, we got what we needed.”

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Player Of The Week – Taylor Anderson

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