Liberty County High School will use a bye week to try and regroup after the Panthers fell 19-0 to Statesboro High on Thursday night in Statesboro. .
The Panthers (5-2, 0-1) committed four turnovers in the game against powerful Statesboro (6-1, 1-0 Region 3-AAAA). Those were key, Liberty County coach Kirk Warner said.
“It was definitely the turnovers and we just didn’t do as well as we needed to do on offense,” he said.
Meanwhile, Statesboro’s path to a possible third-straight region title got off on the right foot. Liberty County came into the game averaging 31.6 points per game, but the Devils allowed just 90 yards in notching their second shut out in the last three games.
“Overall, it was a great effort by our defense,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “We were really able to shut (Liberty) down. And that stems from great preparation. Our scout team deserves a lot of credit for getting the defense physically and mentally prepared.”
The Liberty defense also performed well, but Statesboro was able to do just enough. Sherrodric Rawls and Daniel Murphy managed a pair of hard-earned touchdowns to stake the Devils to a lead and quarterback Colin Chance put the game out of reach with another rushing touchdown late in the game.
Statesboro managed just 176 yards of total offense itself, but that was partially due to the short field that four Liberty County turnovers provided. All three of the Devils’ touchdown drives started in Panther territory.
“To force those turnovers and not turn the ball over ourselves was huge,” Pennington said. “We knew that scoring points would be tough, so getting those short fields was a big help.”
For the most part, the first half was a defensive struggle with very few scoring opportunities.
Liberty crossed midfield on its first possession, but fumbled the ball away at the Blue Devils’ 44. After forcing Statesboro to punt, the Blue Devils returned the favor and a short punt gave Statesboro possession at the Panthers’ 45.
After gaining a first down, Quan Daniels broke off a run to the Liberty 10. A penalty on the Panthers pushed the ball to the 5 and Rawls took the next two carries, bursting through for a 4-yard touchdown run on his second attempt.
George Hill missed the extra point to keep the SHS lead at 6-0.
With just 54 yards of offense in the first half, the Panthers never seriously threatened getting on the scoreboard.
Taking possession with just over six minutes to play in the first half, Statesboro penetrated as far as the Liberty 26, but Hill couldn’t connect on a 38-yard field goal attempt just before halftime.
Statesboro’s defense went right back to work in the second half, kicking the ball off to Liberty, but quickly forcing a three-and-out.
On the Panthers’ second possession of the half, Tim Key intercepted J.J. Grant on the Liberty County 34. The Panthers’ defense nearly held, but Chance scrambled for a first down and Murphy plowed in from a yard out two plays later to make it 13-0.
Liberty eventually drove as far as the SHS 24, but the Panthers opened the fourth quarter with a halfback pass that was picked off by Ben Roberts and they didn’t cross midfield again.
Chance capped off the scoring with a 7yard scamper with just over two minutes to play.
Warner said the loss hasn’t shaken the Panthers’ confidence or resolve. They’ll use the time off to get better, he said.
“We got some minor bumps and bruises to heal up and we will welcome this week off, but we know we have to come back and win the last couple of games to have a shot at playing that 10th game for a playoff spot,” he said. “Our guys are focused and they are confident and we just have some work to do to fix the kinks.”