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Cage Match: Liberty and Carver prowl into second round for ‘Panther’ battle
Kirk Warner
Kirk Warner during first round playoff game against Brantley County - photo by Gerald Thomas III

HINESVILLE -- The Carver (Atlanta) Panthers (9-2) will be visiting Hinesville for a second round GHSA Class 3A matchup against the Liberty County Panthers (6-3) on Friday.

Liberty County is coming off a 30-28 first round victory over Brantley County, stopping a two-point conversion with no time left to avoid overtime and secure the victory of the Herons.

Carver made quick work of their first-round opponent, North Hall by knocking them out of the playoffs in a 56-17 win.

Running back Marques Johnson will be looked to after he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season with a 240 rushing yard and four touchdown performance against Brantley County.

“We’re going to gameplan and take what they give us,” Liberty County Head Coach Kirk Warner said ahead of Friday night's game. “Last week they were giving us Marques, so we exploited that a little bit. Carver is a little bit more physical and a lot more faster than Brantley County so we may have to mix in the pass a little bit more with the run. But our plan is to try to use Marques and get him to the second level. Not many teams in the state have the speed to catch him once he gets to the second level so he’s going to be a big part of our offense going into Friday.”

Johnson also snagged an interception as his recruitment begins to warm up as his senior football season has reached the home stretch.

So far in this season, Liberty County has averaged 23.6 points per game and given up 19 even.

Defensive stoppers like Caz Creasy, Jaleel Andrew, Mason Diaz, Jah’zir Williams, Dwayne Allen, James Summersett, Kyan Parker, Demarai Booker, and Johnson must have all hands on deck for the hot offense of Carver.

As Carver comes to town, they have an offense that clicks, posting an average of 34.8 points per game with three games scoring over 50 points.

They are led by their senior running back Quintavious Lockett, who has 959 rushing yards and ten touchdowns in seven games this season.

Lockett is a hot commodity for Division 1 college football programs, holding offers from Georgia, Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia Tech, and Middle Tennessee State.

On his side, he has fellow senior back Jarveous Brown, who leads Region 5-3A in rushing with 1,306 yards.

“We got to be physical and have our best tackling game of the year,” Warner said about neutralizing Carver’s backfield. “They got a 235 lb. back there in Lockett and a speedster in Brown. We just got to be able to tackle and can’t let them just run the ball up and down the field on us. So, we got some things we’re going to gameplan. Hopefully it’s going to work. We’re going to try to make them become one dimensional and pass it to beat us. The percentage is lower when you pass the ball instead of just running up and down the field so our gameplan is just to stack the box a little bit and hopefully we can stop them so we can force them to pass more than they usually do.”

Going through the air, Carver has Bryce Bowens under center throwing the ball to main targets senior Tobias Robinson and junior DeAndre Buchannon who combines for 879 receiving yards and ten touchdowns.

Like Liberty County, Carver also allows 19 points per game even on average.

They have their region’s sack leader (12) and second leader (119) in tackles with the duo of senior defensive end Terrell Lightfoot Jr. and senior outside linebacker Devonte Amasiani.

Senior middle linebacker Dialo Mosley is third behind Amasiani in region tackles with 102.

“Our linemen got to man up,” Warner said about Carver’s defense. “We can’t double team their entire line because we can’t let those linebackers run free. The reason they’re so successful is because their d-line does such a good job of commanding double teams. It allows them to run free. They’re great tackles so therefore they got 100 tackles each. We got to be able to single block upfront then hopefully we can get a center or guard up the second level to kind of get in the linebacker’s way so we can spring a run or two.”

With the Panthers winning Region 3, they will host Carver on Friday.

The game will kick off at 7:30 at Donell Woods Stadium for one of the Panthers to prevail on to the quarterfinals.

“We just can’t be complacent,” Warner said about the team’s mindset. “We jumped out on Brantley County. We got a young team. They don’t know what it takes to have that killer instinct and really put an opponent out. So, we just got to play four quarters. We can’t take any quarters off Friday night with these guys. They got several D1 prospects. They’re big, fast, and physical. When they come down here, they’re coming with bad intentions. So, we got to match their intensity for four quarters in order to be successful.”

Liberty-Carver’s winner will head on to face the winner of Burke County and Stephens County.

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