- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
ARLINGTON — In a championship game dictated by defense, South Oak Cliff shut down Liberty Hill’s vaunted rushing game to claim the first state championship in the Dallas school’s history.
South Oak Cliff fended off Liberty Hill for a 23-14 win in the Class 5A Division II title game Saturday at AT&T Stadium. The teams entered halftime tied at 14-14, but the Golden Bears (15-1) did not allow a point after the break.
"That’s the best defense we’ve seen all year," Liberty Hill coach Kent Walker said. "That’s the fastest defense we’ve seen, and they're so big up front, so it was hard to move them. Give them credit, but I'm just proud of these kids. They fought their tail off today."
The loss capped an impressive season for Liberty Hill (13-3), which earned its fourth trip to a state championship and its first as a Class 5A team despite breaking in an entirely new offense. The young Panthers endured some growing pains early while splitting their first four games, but the offense found its rhythm in the playoffs while averaging 49.8 points per contest in the postseason entering Saturday’s championship game.
"It was all new people on offense," Liberty Hill senior defensive end Lloyd Johnson said. "But they pulled together this whole season. I'm proud of them.”
Liberty Hill couldn't maintain that pace against gritty South Oak Cliff. The Panthers scored just twice on touchdown runs by Andon Thomas and ended the game with only 276 yards rushing, more than 100 yards below their season average. Most of those yards came in the first half, when Liberty Hill had 203 on the ground.
According to South Oak Cliff head coach Jason Todd, the Golden Bears had to adapt to Liberty Hill's tempo as well as the speed of the slot-T. That proved crucial in the second half.
“We had to make some adjustments at halftime," he said. "We had to get lined up, we had to make some tweaks. That’s a great team that we went against, and that’s a great offense that’s hard to duplicate in practice. But our staff, they came out with a plan, and the kids executed.”
A veteran defense as well as a desire to honor former head coach Jeff Walker proved a constant for Liberty Hill all season. Walker, the brother of Kent Walker, died during last year’s playoff run after battling cancer. Kent Walker took over as head coach, and the mantra “Walker Tough” remains a bedrock of the program.
The support provided by the players — especially the 2022 class — over the past year helped carry the Walker family through the tough times, said Kent Walker.
“This is a special group, what they've been through and what we’ve all been through," he said. "I can’t thank them enough for the support they've given me. It’s just an awesome group of young men."
South Oak Cliff may have been designated as the away team, but the Golden Bears certainly felt right at home at AT&T Stadium. Thousands of their fans made the 20-mile drive from South Dallas and formed a wall of white-clad support that filled much of the lower levels of AT&T Stadium.
The crowd’s energy seemed to spark SOC early. After a failed onside kick by Liberty Hill to open the game, the Golden Bears marched 46 yards and scored on a 17-yard strike from quarterback Kevin Henry-Jennings to Corinthean Coleman. SOC built its lead to 14-0 midway through the second quarter when Henry-Jennings connected with Jamyri Cauley on a 27-yard scoring pass, but the Panthers refused to panic in their fourth appearance in a state title game.
Liberty Hill, resisting any urge to deviate from its slot-T ground attack, cut the lead to 14-7 after Thomas capped an 8-play, 63-yard drive by bulling in from the 10-yard line. After forcing a quick punt, the Panthers then unfurled a classic slot-T drive on its next possession, moving 87 yards in eight plays and bypassing a field goal try for a 1-yard scoring run by Thomas to even the game with 11 seconds left on the first-half clock.
SOC's lone touchdown in the second half came on a 17-yard scoring run by Qualon Farrar with 3 minutes, 12 seconds left in the game. Liberty Hill fumbled the ensuing kickoff for the game's lone turnover, and SOC was able to add a field goal and ensure the first official state championship for the Dallas school district since 1958. Carter won the 1988 title but had to forfeit the crown because of UIL violations.
“I’ve been following Dallas football my whole life," Todd said. "I've only coached in Dallas, I went to school in Dallas. Everything about me is Dallas born and bred. I'm proud to be from Dallas. And I'm proud we got over this hump and got a state championship for Dallas."
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: South Oak Cliff fends off Liberty Hill football for state championship