KILLEEN — China Spring came up with a huge fourth-down goal line stand not once, but twice. After the first one was waved off by a penalty, the Cougars stood strong once again and denied Liberty Hill the end zone.

With time on China Spring’s side, as it led by 1 with less than 10 seconds to play, the Cougars once again defended the end zone as Liberty Hill set up inside the 5-yard line. But this time, the Panthers broke through into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown as Liberty Hill defeated China Spring, 33-28.

“It was just a heartbreaking loss for our kids,” China Spring coach Mark Bell said. “Not many words right now.”

The Cougars’ fight never weakened despite a slow start for China Spring. On the Cougars’ first play of the game, Tyrick James fumbled the football as the tight end tried to extend his carry. That error gave Liberty Hill the ball on China Spring’s 38-yard line, and the Panthers needed only eight plays to find the end zone.

Even though things didn’t go their way, the Cougars didn’t hang their heads. Instead, behind a 46-yard pass from Cayden Johnson to Steven Russo, China Spring evened the score as James ran it in from a yard out.

Thus began the back-and-forth affair between the two district foes. China Spring didn’t take its first lead until 6:15 left in the first half. That touchdown, another 1-yard run by James, came behind two big-time defensive possessions by the Cougars.

With time running out in the first quarter, China Spring was forced to punt down 14-7. As Liberty Hill seemed to have the momentum, the Cougars came up big with a fourth-down stuff which gave China Spring back the ball on the Panther 36-yard line. A pair of rushes by Erik Hart set things up for Johnson who, after a fake to Hart, kept the ball himself for a 24-yard score. That tied the game at 14.

Liberty Hill got the ball back and marched down the field once again with its slot-T offense. But the Cougar defense stood tall to hold the Panthers to just a field goal. In two trips, Liberty Hill came away with 10 points.

Because of the effort on the defensive side, China Spring was able to take the lead the following possession.

And the defense continued to play strong through the second half as the offense failed to score again the rest of the game.

Erik Hart led the ground game for the Cougars with a little more than 100 yards rushing on the evening. Though the air, Johnson had only a couple of incompletions while he passed for more than 150 yards.

For Liberty Hill, Kyle Harrison and Hunter Oncken combined for more than 200 yards on the ground.

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