Liberty County’s patched-together defense found out the true meaning of resolve Friday, stopping Monroe Area three times inside the 15-yard line to preserve a 20-18 homecoming win at Donell Woods Stadium.
Fittingly, it was the Panthers’ defense that clinched the game by getting an interception in the final seconds.
“We grew up a lot tonight. Injuries are still hurting us, but we have players stepping up,” Liberty County defensive coordinator Tony Glazer said.
“You cannot ask any more of a group of young men to do everything they can to stop a team like Monroe towards the end of a close game. But to have those players do it three times is rare but we really stepped up tonight and I am really proud of them,”
Being able bounce back and take a win from a team like the Tornadoes was especially important for the Panthers (3-2) after losing 42-23 to AA defending state champion Benedictine on Sept. 11 in Savannah.
“Monroe is a good football team. They averaged 265 pounds across the line and an athletic quarterback and strong running back. For our defense to hold like that was absolutely huge for us,” Liberty County head coach Kirk Warner said. “We started to turn a corner against McIntosh Academy, and I think starting to play better football each week.”
Richard LeCounte gave Liberty the early lead Friday when he ran back the opening kickoff for 80 yards. However, LeCounte’s score would be Liberty’s only one of the first half. Liberty was inside the 10 three times during the first half but was unable to convert. Ball control also was a problem for the Panthers, who lost five fumbles.
Monroe’s ground attack gave the visitors a 12-6 lead going into halftime.
Liberty tied the game early in the second half when LeCounte, playing quarterback, hit Eli Polite for 67-yard touchdown strike. LeCounte later scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 15-yard run in the third quarter.
In the final six minutes, the two teams hit a stalemate until Monroe picked off a Liberty pass and the Panther defense stopped Monroe Area for four straight downs. Travion Freeman who made a shoe string tackle that saved a Monroe score in the final three minutes. Antonio Golden, Tucker Lyda, and Holmes wrapped up the Tornado running back, forcing fourth down. The Tornadoes were unable to convert on the next play, stopping the drive on the Liberty 13.
Monroe started its drive on backed up because of a penalty, and Jeremiah Gilbert plugged the gap for Liberty as part of yet another big defensive play.
In the final minutes, the Panthers would have had to hold for a final time. When Monroe took its final shot at the end zone, Liberty linebacker Calvin Holmes dropped back into coverage with 1.6 seconds left on the clock, reached up and snagged the ball to stop Monroe.
Panther cornerback Sam Roberts made several strong plays covering Tornado receivers during the continuous red zone drives that Monroe made in the last three minutes.
“Wins like this is certainly something we can build on, and it’s going to important as we move into region play against Wayne County next week. We get to play them here at our place, and I think if we came out ready to play like we did tonight,” Warner said.
Liberty begins Region 3A-AAAA play with Wayne County. The Yellow Jackets, who have arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in the state, lost 42-0 to Camden County on Friday. Wayne County’s other losses have come to AAAAA top-10 team Glynn Academy and Oak Leaf, Florida.
On Friday night, as part of homecoming festivities, Tyanna Griggs was crowned queen.