Liberty County sealed its first Region 3-AAAA win Friday night, beating Wayne County 12-3 at Donell Woods Stadium.
“It’s awesome. … We want to try and get into the playoffs and get a good seed in the playoffs, so 1-0 is a good way to start,” Panther football coach Kirk Warner said after the game.
Warner said the Panther defense made big plays, and an early turnover gave the Panthers momentum they knew they had to maintain to counter the Yellow Jackets.
“It’s a great Wayne County team, but our guys fought hard,” Warner said. “I told them in the pregame this was going to be a 16-round heavyweight battle, and whoever blinked first was going to lose the game. They had that turnover down there, they blinked first … and our defense came up big for us.”
Richard LeCounte had a 50-yard return on a forced fumble and a fumble he ran in for a touchdown, giving the Panthers a 6-0 lead. Linebackers Jeremiah Gilbert and Tucker Lyda were all over the visiting team’s quarterback.
“We had some guys that were injured, and Martial Washington had a big game and played outstanding for us,” Warner said, adding that several players had to sit out last week’s game against Monroe. “DeShaun Hudson was back and played a great game.”
The Yellow Jackets started to move the ball with just seconds remaining before the half. But the Panthers’ staunch defense once again held strong. The Yellow Jackets scored a field goal and trailed 6-3 at the half.
“We pretty much shut down the runs. … We wanted to make them one dimensional,” Warner said. “We knew they could pass the ball, but we knew we would be in more trouble if we let them run and pass. So we took the run game away from them and forced them to pass and kept them out of the end zone.”
And passing the ball when you have a safety who is a four-star standout recruit like LeCounte is dangerous. LeCounte nearly picked off two passes. Finally, in the fourth quarter — just as Wayne was about to hit pay dirt — LeCounte foiled the plan and leapt in front of the ball.
The interception took the wind out of the Yellow Jackets’ sails.
Critical to the offense was the return of Jaquez Williams, who has committed to Wake Forest. He rushed for 91 yards on 18 carries and scored Liberty’s other touchdown.
When Williams needed to take a break, Elisha Polite stepped in without missing a beat, rushing for 64 yards on nine carries.
“We have two guys that can take it the distance anytime and force the defense to plan for both of them, and then when we throw Richard back there as the quarterback, that’s a triple threat,” Warner said. “Keeping those guys healthy and on the field is going to dictate how well we do from here on out.”
LeCounte rushed for 102 yards on 18 carries, made four receptions for 45 yards and took several snaps under center, running the Wildcat offense. Panther quarterback Jaalon Frazier completed 6 of 12 passes for 53 yards.
The Panthers are 4-2 overall and 1-0 in region action and have a bye week this Friday. The coach said he thinks it will give the players plenty of time to heal, work on reducing penalties and prepare for another region game Oct. 9 at home against Burke County.