The Panthers had little doubt going in they’d have their hands full with Rouse signal caller Mason Shorb, but after four passing touchdowns in 14 minutes, it looked like it might boil down to just keeping pace with the Raiders air attack.
But big runs in the first half kept pace, and a more aggressive defensive effort after the initial barrage turned the tide and carried the Panthers to a 56-42 third-round victory over Rouse.
While Shorb opened the game with 10-straight completions, and connected on 13-of-16 for four scores before the Panther defense could steady itself, Liberty Hill held him to only 12 more completions and one more score – while forcing two interceptions – the rest of the way.
Late in the first quarter marked a turning point in the Rouse passing game when Lloyd Johnson Jr. sacked Shorb, forcing Rouse to punt for the first time. He would do the same two possessions later. Two plays after the second sack, Will Szewczyk batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage and Shorb was no longer in control.
Early in the fourth quarter Andon Thomas hauled in the first of two Panther interceptions, the second coming on the Raiders’ next drive by Carter Hudson – whose grab foiled a touchdown.
With the defense slowing Rouse down, the always-potent Panther rushing attack took over behind a half for the ages by Blake Simpson who scored four times and rushed for 218 yards on 15 second-half carries. In all, Simpson logged 296 yards and scored five times in the win.
The Panthers only completed one pass on the afternoon, but it was a 45-yard strike from Charlie Calabretta to Simpson on third and 17 to keep the drive alive for a game-tying score early in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers finished with 507 rushing yards on 50 carries, outpacing the Rouse offense which racked up 395 through the air and 65 on the ground.
Trey Seward rushed for 66 yards and one touchdown, but also ran back a kick off 77 yards for another score. Noah Long had four rushes for 101 yards, including a 77-yard score to get the Panthers on the board in the first quarter. Eric De La Cruz carried eight times for 34 yards.
Watch online and in the upcoming edition of The Independent for more on this win and the next opponent for the Panthers in their march to a title.