It took every second of the four quarters played to decide Friday’s Region 2A-AAAA contest between Liberty County and Brunswick High at Glynn County Stadium. In the end, though, the Panthers lost by a whisker, 30-28.
With the Pirates up 30-8 with 6 minutes, 44 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, the Panthers scored three touchdowns in a span of 3:56, but Brunswick snuffed Liberty halfback Shadrach Thornton in the backfield on the potential game-tying 2-point conversion in the closing minutes to preserve the win.
Thornton, who has given a verbal commitment to Kentucky, added to his 938 rushing yards coming in with 187 more yards on 33 carries. He ran for two scores, threw for another touchdown and converted on the first two Liberty two-point conversions — but could not run in the all-important third.
Pirate Justin Clark’s fourth-quarter touchdown, which put Brunswick up 30-8, gave way to a bizarre stretch that saw Liberty score on a 66-yard pass play, recover a squib kick and score again, then recover another squib kick and nearly break Brunswick’s heart.
After stopping Thornton’s 2-point attempt that would have tied the game at 30, Brunswick went three-and-out on the ensuing drive from its 35-yard line after Liberty’s third kickoff of the quarter rolled out of bounds.
From its own 22 and with 1:33 to play, Liberty’s first play from scrimmage, a short pass over left tackle, was picked off by the Pirates’ Cory Dixon at the Panther 32 to send the Panthers back to Hinesville with the loss.
Liberty (2-4, 0-2) lost in region play for the second straight week. Brunswick (2-4 overall, 1-1 region) snapped a two-game losing streak and evened its region record with the win.
Brunswick raced out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter, courtesy of a 2-yard run by Willie Bolden on the Pirates’ 5-play opening drive that covered 41 yards after a Demetrius Frazier interception. Frazier himself scored five minutes later on a 14-yard run.
Liberty made it 16-8 with Thornton — lined up in the Wildcat formation — found Joey Irizarry for a 10-yard touchdown with 37 seconds left before halftime.
But the Pirates didn’t sit still, covering 60 yards in three plays and 28 seconds to go up 22-8 with Frazier wrestling a Bolden pass away from a Liberty defensive back 2 seconds before the horn.
“We got a little momentum before the halftime, then had a drive killer and let Brunswick score with 2 seconds to go before the half,” Liberty coach Kirk Warner said. “We kind of hung our heads a little bit and came out sleepwalking the first half of the third quarter, but after that, we played the kind of ball we knew we were capable of playing. Brunswick is outstanding, and coach (Victor) Floyd does an excellent job.
“I just challenged our guys defensively and we did some things in the second half that we hoped to do earlier.”
Warner said he scripted the squib kicks and his team got lucky.
“I’m a special teams guy, so I just try to find a void and tell them to make them turn and chase (the ball), outrun them to the football. I just know how hard it is to field a ball once it goes by you and you have to turn your back.”
Led by Thornton, the Panthers amassed 317 yards — 211 of that on the ground. Liberty starting quarterback J.J. Grant finished 7-for-13 passing for 86 yards, but threw two interceptions — the second of which was fatal.
Pirates’ coach Floyd said his team still has work to do.
“Every game is a playoff — if you lose you’re out,” said BHS coach Floyd. “Two region losses, you’re not necessarily (out), but I’m not going to go through that scenario again.”
Echoed Warner: “This region is so competitive, everybody is going to beat up on everybody. It’s going to come down to that three-way tie.”
The Panthers travel to Gator Country next week to play Ware County.
Jordan is sports editor of the Brunswick News.