Liberty County High School shut down Richmond Hill High School’s running game Friday night and capitalized on several turnovers to beat the Wildcats, 44-22, at Donell Woods Stadium.
The Panther defense held Wildcat running back Ronnie Harris to only 139 yards on 18 carries, a low number considering Harris is among the top running backs in the state.
Panther Richard LeCounte proved his worth once again, recovering several fumbles while playing defense and participating in several tackles and sacks. On offense, LeCounte tossed a 55-yard touchdown pass to Jacari Roberts, made a one-handed catch off a 36-yard pass by Jaalon Frazier that set up another Panther touchdown and played quarterback for a good portion of the second half, during which he scrambled for yardage and scored a touchdown.
“That is why he is a potential five-star All-American,” Panther coach Kirk Warner said.
The Panthers’ first touchdown was the result of a Wildcat fumble recovered by LeCounte. After moving the ball on some quick runs, LeCounte lined up under center and delivered the long pass to Roberts for a score.
The Wildcats went three and punt.
Liberty’s next drive was cut short due to an interception by Frazier. Within minutes, though, the offense was back on the field as the Wildcats coughed up the ball again and LeCounte pounced on it.
The Panthers marched downfield primarily on the legs of running back Jacquez Williams. At the 9-yard line, LeCounte took the snap and ran into the end zone.
The Liberty boys struggled with making extra points and converting for two. LCHS held a 12-0 lead, but the Wildcats were about to answer back.
Knowing that the Panthers were looking at Harris for the run, Wildcat quarterback Xavier Bryant-Long ran the ball. He scored on an 8-yard run. Bryant-Long then ran in a two-point conversion. The Wildcats trailed 12-8.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Wildcats tried for an on-side kick but the Panthers recovered the ball at mid-field. Frazier completed a short pass to Williams, and then LeCounte made his 36-yard one-handed catch to bring his team into scoring range. The Panthers then ran the old fashion flea-flicker. Frazier pitched the ball to Roberts, who set his feet and tossed a 28-yard touchdown pass to Williams.
Liberty took an 18-8 lead going into intermission.
The Wildcat offense had the ball to start the quarter but again fumbled it to the Panther defense, which set up a touchdown reception From Frazier to JaMarques Latson. Panther Joaquin Lemapu made the PAT and the Liberty boys had a 25-8 lead.
Harris made a huge gain for the Wildcats, which set up another touchdown run by Bryant-Long. Richmond Hill tried to convert for two but fell short and trailed 25-14.
The Wildcats kicked and recovered an on-side kick, but the Panther defense blitzed and hurried the QB. It was fourth and 25, and the Wildcats were forced to punt.
On the next Wildcat offensive drive, the Richmond Hill team coughed up the ball at its 15-yard line, which set up a 9-yard TD run by LeCounte. The Panthers made the PAT to go up 32-14.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers were dealt a major blow after a fight broke out between the players. The game was delayed six minutes while the referees sorted out the mess. One Wildcat and Panthers Dalton Bryant and Frazier, the QB, were ejected from the game.
The majority of the Panther coaching staff questioned Frazier’s ejection since it appeared that the junior quarterback was nowhere near the small fight that broke out between the players. Warner said he will see if they can appeal the call once they review the film.
If the ejection stands, Frazier will not be allowed to play in next week’s first-round playoff game. The incident occurred in the second half of play, and LeCounte stepped in under center for the rest of the game.
“We will look at the film to see if we can appeal it,” Warner said after the game. “Right now, it is what it is.”
The Wildcats did score again off a 55-yard touchdown pass by Brian Hughes. Richmond Hill trailed 32-22 when they converted for two points.
However, the Panthers kept pushing to nab the 44-22 win.
Warner also said after the game that quarterback Walker Franklin is being evaluated this week to see if he will be medically cleared to play after sitting out the last few games with a wrist injury. The coach said they will shuffle some personnel to get the job done if needed.
“We might have to ride on No. 4’s back,” he said, meaning they will look to LeCounte in next week’s playoff game at Griffin.
LeCounte had 13 carries for 121 yards, was 2-of-3 for 77 passing yards with one TD, had one reception for 36 yards and scored several touchdowns. Frazier was 8-of-12 for 158 passing yards and had one touchdown. Williams had six carries for 51 yards and made five receptions for 83 yards and a TD. Roberts was 1-for-1 for 28 passing yards and had a TD. He also had the 55-yard TD reception. Latson made two receptions for 83 yards and a TD.
Before the game, the senior Panther football players, cheerleaders and band members were honored.
The Panthers are 4-6 going into the playoffs.