Liberty County seniors on Friday were rewarded for their commitment to the Panthers football program with a 41-17 win over Region 3A-AAAA foe South Effingham at Donell Woods Stadium.
The seniors, playing in their final regular-season home game, now get to fight for a playoff spot. Liberty (7-2 overall, 1-2 in Region 3A-AAAA) will play Academy of Richmond County next Friday in Augusta. A victory there most likely would put the Panthers on the road in the first round against Region 1-AAAA’s Westover High School in Albany.
“Tonight is really special. This feels great,” LCHS senior linebacker Raekwon McMillan said. “To see the smiles of guys that I have played with for the last seven or eight years and know that we are one game from accomplishing our goal of making it to the playoffs, all of the hard work was worth it.”
It was the senior’s night Friday, but it was the sophomore rushing attack, led by four combined touchdowns by Jacari Roberts and Trentice Williams, that lit up the scoreboard.
South Effingham scored first with a field goal at the 9-minute mark of the first quarter for 3-0 lead. Liberty responded when Roberts capped a nine-play drive with a touchdown en route to a 7-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
After the defense held LeCounte took the South Effingham punt and jitterbugged across the field, cut back across the grain with half of the Mustangs slogging through the muddy field. He was chased for 81 yards and tackled at the Mustangs 3. One play later, Liberty punched the ball in on a 2-yard run by Roberts for a 14-3 lead.
Friday’s rain created less-than-ideal conditions for keeping the football secure. The Panthers continued to dominate the Mustang offense, but South Effingham got a huge break. The Mustangs were forced to punt from deep in their own territory, but the ball pinged LeCounte as he was getting ready to go into a sprint before he had secured the ball. The Mustangs recovered the football at midfield and found new life offensively. “Normally, Richard makes that catch and gets a nice return. The weather is also a factor, but on the last punt LeCounte made an amazing run setting up an easy score for us,” Liberty County head coach Kirk Warner said.
South Effingham created momentum and got a touchdown cut the Panthers lead to four at 14-10.
Liberty responded by pounding the ball down the field. McMillan, doing double duty at fullback, acted as a battering ram, carrying the Mustangs defensive line for a first down. Shortly after, Williams scored off of a 4-yard run. Joaquin Lemapeau added the PAT to make the score 21-10 at halftime.
The rain increased at the half, forcing both teams to a ground game. Williams added his second touchdown of the game in the third quarter.
South Effingham scored another touchdown, but could not stop the Panthers’ speed and defense. Later, Liberty got touchdowns off Calvin Holmes’ 13-yard interception return and senior running back Jordan Moody’s first touchdown of the season.
Liberty amassed 388 yards on 44 carries on the night. Williams had 162 yards on 14 carries. Jordan Waters had 56 yards on four carries, and McMillan had 39 yards on four carries.
“This was a big win for us. We had to win tonight to have a chance to play ARC next week, which will allow us to have a chance to control our own destiny,” Warner said. “I am proud of how hard we have worked as a team and especially proud of the hard work that the seniors committed to, giving us a chance to get back in the playoffs.”
The region standings ended up with Burke County as the top seed; Wayne County, which defeated Statesboro, 7-6, Friday, as the No. 2 seed; and Statesboro third and Liberty County fourth. Statesboro will play Glenn Hills in its contest.
“Monday, we will go to work. This week, practice will be intense and focused,” McMillan said. “We have to be ready next Friday night, defeat ARC and get ready to get back to the AAAA playoffs for the first time in our career.”