With only nine days of spring football practice under the Panthers’ collective belts, it was understandable that Liberty County didn’t exactly look razor sharp in Thursday’s Black vs. Gold scrimmage at Donell Woods Stadium.
But it wasn’t bad, as scrimmages go. The Gold, behind Georgia signee Richard LeCounte and elusive quarterback Jaalon Frazier, pulled out a 12-7 win over the Black in a game that wasn’t so much about the stars or the stats as it was finding out who’ll be the next standouts to emerge at a school college recruiters are coming to know quite well.
"We’ve got some players coming back; we know what we can get out of them," Liberty coach Kirk Warner said afterward, naming several Panthers on the roster and noting that the team’s entire secondary is solid with LeCounte, Tracy White and Sam Roberts, among others. "But we’ve also got a lot of guys fighting for position, so we’re just looking for depth and trying to find guys to fill vacancies."
One of the biggest holes the Panthers will have to fill is replacing running back Jacquez Williams, who is headed to Wake Forest after rushing for more than 1,300 yards last season.
"We might not be able to find someone who will get 1,300 yards, but we can find some players who will get us 500 here, 600 there, 700 here," Warner said.
Among them could be junior Cleon Hamilton, who got a good bit of work Thursday night for the Gold team and whose tough inside running impressed Warner. Freshman "2" back Markel Johnson was among those who stood out
for the Black team.
"I’m not high on playing freshmen, but if they can play then we’re going to put them out there," Warner said, referring to Johnson.
The game was broken into a 20-minute period, a short break, and then a 10-minute period followed by a five-minute period. There were no kickoffs or punts, or kicked extra-point tries during the scrimmage, but there were a handful of big plays, including a 50-yard pass and catch from Frazier to LeCounte on the Gold’s second possession that was called back because of offensive interference.
The Gold’s offense put the first points on the board on a 5-yard run by Frazier with 11:32 remaining in the first period, punctuating a short drive that began on the Black’s 15-yard line after a fumble recovery. The extra-point try — a pass instead of a kick — failed.
Both offenses were operating behind lines that were mixes of starters and backups, as coaches drafted players and tried to avoid loading either side with too many stars. That unfamiliarity with teammates, occasional light rain and soggy field led to some interesting moments, such as when LeCounte scooped up fumble around the Black 35-yard line and reversed field several times before lateraling the ball back to teammate Josh Washington, who eventually got the ball down to the 14-yard line. Kris Coleman ran the ball in two plays later to give the Gold a 12-0 lead before the first period ended.
The Black’s only TD came as the game ended after an interception by Eli Polite ultimately resulted in Deonte Bowen’s short TD run, and Bowen passed for the extra point.
While LeCounte took some of the snaps at QB for the Gold, Frazier got the bulk of the work. Aaron Kuhl, Dylan Stewart and then Bowen shared time behind center for the Black.
The Panthers enter their first season back in Class AAA this fall after advancing to the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs in 2015. Warner said his players will quickly learn there’s no drop in talent at the AAA level.
Summer practice starts June 6.