WALLER — At times turnovers can be momentum killers in football, and for Columbia on Friday against Liberty Hill, they were mostly what decided the Roughnecks’ 44-8 loss to the Panthers at Waller ISD Stadium.
The Class 4A Region III bidistrict loss ended the Roughnecks’ season in a disappointing way as they finished with a 9-2 record.
“When you have five fumbles, you cannot beat anybody, especially a team like Liberty Hill,” Columbia football coach Brent Mascheck said. “It wasn’t because of lack of trying or anything like that. We just, I don’t know, we hadn’t fumbled the ball all year or hadn’t had any issues with it, and it just hurt us tonight.”
For the season the Roughnecks had lost 11 of 17 fumbles.
The Panthers scored on four of the five miscues Friday by Columbia.
The ’Necks had a good start to the game, stopping a run-happy offense by the Panthers that rushed for 3,227 yards during nine games of the regular season. After Columbia stopped them on their first series, the ’Necks took over at their own 31-yard-line.
On first down, Luke Arias burst up the middle and was inside the 20-yard-line of Liberty Hill when Panthers safety/quarterback Jacoby Cearley punched the ball out. The Panthers recovered and took over at their own 7.
Columbia’s defense again did its job as the Panthers punted after seven plays. But the Roughnecks’ Jalen Austin fumbled the ball right back to the Panthers.
With 31.8 seconds left in the first period, Liberty Hill took a 3-0 lead after Mason Shipley’s 33-yard field goal.
Columbia fumbled again on first down, this time sophomore Jordan Woodard coughing it up with 15.8 seconds left.
It took the Panthers one play, as Nash Robinson made it 9-0 covering 10 yards on the ground.
By the end of the first quarter the ’Necks had zero yards of offense.
It wasn’t until they were down 16-0 after a 15-yard jaunt into the end zone by Blake Simpson, that the Roughnecks finally got something going with their best drive of the night — three plays that covered 81 yards. They scored on a 56-yard tackle-breaking run by Jamaurion Woodard. Mitchell McGuaghey added a two-point conversion with 7:59 left before halftime.
“I thought the intensity that Liberty Hill brought tonight, we didn’t match early on,” Mascheck said.
Despite its miscues, Columbia was only down by eight points going into halftime.
“I thought the third quarter we had a chance to come back if we could have scored on that first drive — it could have been a different ballgame,” Mascheck said. “But we just made too many mistakes tonight.”
Three touchdowns by the Panthers in that third quarter pretty much sealed the deal for the Roughnecks.
“We got lucky early and had some turnovers, and our problem all year was that this team didn’t believe in itself because we did graduate a lot of kids last year,” Liberty Hill head coach Jeff Walker said. “But I told them that we could play with some teams, and when the ball bounced our way we got a bit of confidence and I thought momentum, which is a big part of this game, it swung our way. So we rode the momentum and we were just fortunate early on.”
The Panthers will head to the area round next week to meet La Feria, who beat La Vernia.
“I am disappointed for the seniors, I thought they did a great job all four years I’ve been here and they built something for us that our younger players will now have to match,” Mascheck said. “Defensively, I thought we did a decent job of controlling their run game and defensively I didn’t think they did anything we weren’t expecting them to do, but when you have that many turnovers it is just hard to win any game, especially in the playoffs.”