Panthers knocked out of playoffs by Giddings, 21-13
The Liberty Panthers had a hard time overcoming miscues, uncharacteristic penalties, and a questionable call on a potential game-tying drive last Friday night and fell to Giddings in the second round of the Class 4A, Division II playoffs, 21-13.
It was the second time in three years that the Panthers were knocked out by the Buffaloes, once in the Regional round in 2016 and Friday night in the Area round.
“I’m disappointed. We played as hard as we could,” said Liberty head coach Chad Taylor.
“I said last week that if you don’t take care of the football, you’re not going to last long in the playoffs.”
All season the Panthers have protected the ball from turnovers until the last four games. Costly turnovers played large in the loss to West Orange-Stark.
“You can’t get down on the five-yard line with a first-and-goal and turn the ball over and think you’re going to take the lead down there,” he said as he shook his head.
Fortunately, the defense stopped the Buffaloes, forcing a turnover on downs.
Both teams traded punts and forced the ball over on downs for 10 consecutive possessions until the final two drives of the half.
“I thought defensively our kids played their butts off. Offensively, they kept punching us in the mouth.”
Taylor said he was going to review game film but believed this was one of the first teams that moved the offensive line around.
“Up front is where we’ve always hung our hat,” he said.
The Panthers turned the ball over on downs at their own 44 yard line and the Buffaloes moved the ball down the field and scored in 60 seconds on a four-play, 44-yard drive capped by a 1-yard run by Buffalo quarterback Alex Delatorre. A Mark Orocio PAT and the Buffaloes led with 1:15 left in the quarter. But the scoring wasn’t done.
Following the kickoff, the Panthers quickly moved down to the Giddings 10 aided by a J. J. Slack 47-yard pass to Jeremiah “Flip” Guillory. With only seconds left on the clock, the Panthers senior Jesus Landeverde quickly kicked a 32-yard field goal to draw the Panthers within four at the half, 7-3.
“At halftime, I told them we weren’t going to keep beating our head up against the wall,” Taylor said. The Panthers were struggling to move the ball.
“We would find another way,” Taylor said, and they did until a single call changed the momentum of the game in the final minutes.
The Panthers opened the second half with a defensive stand forcing a Giddings punt.
From their own 38-yard line, the Panthers strung together a 13-play drive with a quick 11-yard pass from Slack to Guillory for the score and the lead for the first time in the game.
The Buffaloes, feeling the pressure of the momentum swing, Giddings’ Delatorre engineered an 8-play 63-yard drive and doing the honors himself running the ball in from the 12 for a 14-10 Giddings advantage.
The Panthers responded with a 9-play, 62-yard drive to the Giddings 13 where they stalled. Slack went 4 of 6 in passing to guide Liberty down the field and Landeverde nailed a 30-yard field goal to inch the Panthers closer, 14-13.
On the ensuing kickoff, there was a breakdown in coverage and the Buffaloes Gage Jaehne bolted down the field for a TD and a 21-13 lead with 8:55 ticks left in the game.
“If you pooch it, they usually fair catch it. He didn’t,” the coach said. Instead, he took it to the house.
“Our lanes were terrible.”
Earlier, the Panthers kicked the ball deep, but it wasn’t where coaches wanted it.
“We didn’t put the ball where we wanted it all night. We want the ball outside the numbers if not out of bounds,” he said. “We just didn’t execute.”
The Panthers had plenty of time for one of their ball control drives but were hampered by an unbelievable nine penalties—six against the Panthers, three against Giddings, and one that was waved off and changed the outcome of the game.
“I’ve never seen a crew just take over a game like that,” Taylor said about the numerous penalties on the Panther’s final drive.
On a 4th-and-33 from the Giddings 41, Keegan Turner delivered a pass to Slack down inside the 10-yard line, but he dropped the ball. The defender was draped all over Slack and the official threw a flag for pass interference.
The referee ran to the middle of the field to discuss with the other officials and the flag was waved off. The explanation? The ball was over his head, yet it fell in his lap onto the ground.
The call drew a chorus of boos from the Liberty faithful but to no avail.
“The explanation they gave me only made me madder,” he said frustrated.
The ball went over on downs and with less than two minutes left on the clock, Giddings ran the ball out ending the game.
The Panthers had their opportunities and failed to convert.
“It didn’t come down to that,” he said. “We had plenty of time to get it down there.”
“We go down and take the lead and instead of bowing our neck on defense just one time, we turned around and let them score,” he said.
The Panthers threw the ball more times in that one game than the entire season and managed to rack up 221 yards with their aerial attack.
They scored three TDs from passing in the last two games.
The Panthers also ran for 101 yards on 35 carries. The duo of Slack and Turner went 11 for 21 in passing with one TD. Guillory ended the night with 48 yards rushing on 13 carries and four receptions for 85 yards. Slack finished his career as a Panther with 44 yards on 15 carries and two catches for 71 yards.
The Panthers fumbled three times losing one near the end zone. The Panthers were penalized 10 times for 95 yards.
While Liberty graduates some key players, they won’t leave the cupboard empty.
“We have some good, coachable players returning and a few linemen that will help us out. We just need to get stronger in the off season. We’ll need to work on our footwork, but we’ll be back.”
The Panthers finish their season 7-5 and 2-2 in district play.