Berwick High School's Hunter Landry attempts to haul in a pass during the Panthers' District 8-3A opener against Erath Thursday. Berwick fell 36-14. (The Daily Review/Mico Aloisio)
Erath Bobcats defeat Berwick Panthers 36-14
Missing one of their star players on offense and getting dominated up front led to a long night for Berwick Thursday.
Missing star running back Josh Jones and having an offensive line that often crumbled around quarterback Mitchell Sanford and other playmakers, Berwick fell behind early and never recovered in a 36-14 loss to Erath.
The win was the first all season for the Bobcats (1-5 overall), though you wouldn’t have known it by watching them Thursday.
Erath jumped out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter and led 22-0 by halftime. It scored on each of its first four possessions, as quarterback Luke LeBlanc made running a spread offense look easy. His quick strike to receiver Luke Frederick on the Bobcats’ first drive led to a 33-yard Andrew Sonnier field goal that gave Erath a 3-0 lead early.
The Bobcats scored on their next three possessions.
After a high snap over Berwick punter Seth Canty’s head set up a first-and-goal at the 5-yard-line, Erath scored its first touchdown when Jax Thibodeaux rushed from five yards out to put the Bobcats up 10-0 halfway through the opening quarter.
On its next drive, Erath drove 70 yards with LeBlanc hitting receiver Matt Domingues for a 44-yard touchdown pass for a 16-0 lead.
Erath pulled ahead even further when LeBlanc threaded the needle on third-and-goal from the Berwick 7-yard line, hitting receiver Ian Harrington on an inside slant and giving Erath 22 points on its first four possessions.
“These guys are happier than I’ve seen them all year,” Erath Coach Eric LeBlanc said after the game. “They looked like they were ready for a win. We had a good game plan on both sides of the ball. The difference between this and previous weeks was that we finally executed.”
Even with the game well out of hand in the second half, Erath kept adding on and throwing the ball deep into the fourth quarter.
LeBlanc added a 12-yard touchdown pass to Domingues and a 31-yard strike to Nicholas Nguyen to up the Bobcats’ lead to 36-0 before Berwick finally found the end-zone near the end of the game.
Sanford got the Panthers on the board with 4:53 remaining when he found an opening and raced 29 yards for a touchdown that made it 36-7.
He then completed a 58-yard touchdown pass to Keyon Singleton with 1:03 remaining to cap the game’s scoring.
Playing without Jones was a game-changer for Berwick’s offense. The senior sensation had been suffering all week with an ankle injury that had kept him limited during practice, Berwick Coach Mike Walker said. The Panthers tried to test him during pregame warmups — and even on one snap in the game — but to no avail, Walker said.
“With him on the field, I think it’s a completely different game,” Walker said. “We have the mentality of ‘next man up.’ Unfortunately, (Erath) made plays, and we didn’t. We knew they were going to try to load the box and force us to throw the ball. We were semi-prepared for it, but we just didn’t execute. That’s the bottom line.”
Berwick also wasn’t prepared for LeBlanc, who was lights out all night. He completed 17 of 29 passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran when he had to, totaling 42 yards on three carries.
“Defensively we got beat on the back end,” Walker said. “We didn’t necessarily think they could throw the ball as well as they did, but sure enough, they beat us on some go routes and some 50/50 balls. They made plays and we didn’t.”
Erath totaled 374 yards of offense and 17 first downs. Domingues was LeBlanc’s top receiving target with nine catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Frederick caught five balls for 64 yards.
On the ground, Thibodeaux rushed 17 times for 70 yards.
Sanford completed just nine of 26 pass attempts for 158 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Singleton caught three passes for 76 yards and a score, and Barrett Hover had five grabs for 60 yards.
Berwick finished with 219 yards of offense and eight first downs.