Cars lined Highway 84 as fans scrambled for the best seat in the house at Friday night’s scrimmage between the Liberty County Panthers and the Bradwell Tigers. The only thing louder than the game announcer was the roar of the crowd as the teams exchanged touchdowns before Liberty took the lead midway through the fourth quarter. Despite a last minute surge by the Tigers’ offense, the Panthers went on to win, 14-7.
But this was a scrimmage, an opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. What worked for the Tigers was their first-string quarterback, Myrese Cobb, and a good balance of passing and running. The Tigers are known for their ground game, but with Cobb at the helm, the passing game appeared to work well.
Cobb hit Markell McKee in stride twice, also completing passes to DeAndre Day and Quonte Haggray. Cobb managed a balanced offense with the run as well, handing the ball to Haggray and Day, who were able to drive the ball into the Panthers’ 27-yard line during their first offensive drive.
“We know we have to throw the ball, and it’s no hidden secret that we need to do that,” Tigers football coach Jim Walsh Jr. said. “You have to make sure all the parts are in place. We have guys that can catch and we have guys that can throw and protect the passer, and I thought we did a pretty good job tonight of mixing it up.”
The Panthers had moments of glory mixed in with moments of rust on the offensive side of the ball. They were flagged with several false starts throughout the game and were plagued by low snaps in the third quarter.
“Those types of things are going to happen … but we are going to keep working at it and we have a backup plan with our under center bone package, so if things start getting rough we will jump into that,” Panthers coach Kirk Warner said.
The Panthers’ usual suspects did what was expected of them. After recovering a Tigers fumble, Panthers quarterback Jerome Grant was poised in the spread and ran when needed to keep the drive going. Shadrach Thornton and Sam Carter carried the ball effectively. Thornton broke free for a 30-plus run to get the Panthers inside the 15. Carter ran to the 7, then Thornton scored a touchdown. The Panthers missed the extra-point kick.
Cobb and the Tigers answered back. Cobb hit Markell McKee for a 30-yard pass reception. On third down, McKee caught another pass for a first down. Day brought the ball to the 1-yard line and Haggray broke the plane. Kris Lewis made the kick and the Tigers led, 7-6.
Defensively, both squads looked strong. Panther Melvin King blocked a pass, Raekwon McMillan made an interception that was called back due to a penalty, newcomer Tay Tay Bacon covered the receivers well and Cory Lazenby was quick to the ball.
The Tigers’ defense placed pressure on Grant, pushing the ball back on several occasions and did well covering Thornton. Tiger Lord Smith recorded a sack.
The Tigers led until the fourth quarter. Running the Wildcat formation, the Panthers were able to drive the ball down to the 1-yard line, and McMillan broke the middle of the pack to score the touchdown. The Panthers went for the two-point conversion with Thornton driving through a pile of Tiger defenders.
Trailing, 14-7, the Tigers mounted a drive with quarterback LeBaron Anthony running the offense. With less than two minutes on the clock, the Tigers drove inside the Panthers’ 20 but couldn’t cross the plane.
The Panthers’ offense took over and ran out the clock.
The downside for the Tigers was injuries to at least three of their players. Tiger speedster Tony Britton was tackling Thornton when he went down, grabbing his knee and ankle. He was carried off the field and later taken to Liberty Regional Medical Center.
“It’s going to be a big loss,” Tigers defensive coordinator DeAndre Davis said after the game. “He is my free safety and corner and I rely on him heavily for special teams, so not having him … I would hate to lose the kids due to injuries. I’m praying he is OK. Basically, he is the captain of my defense.”
The extent of the injuries was unknown as of Sunday morning, but it’s a problem that has plagued the Tigers the past two seasons.
The Tigers also played without Greg Howard and Marsalis Jackson for most of the game as they tended to their injuries.
“I think the biggest thing was we didn’t have our middle linebacker, Greg Howard, in the game nor Marsalis Jackson,” Davis said. “We did pretty well all night. The defensive linemen worked on sticking to their assignments. It’s not major things we need to work on, just minor things, but those minor things killed us tonight.”
With a few bad snaps behind them, Warner said the Panthers have to work on improving their front line.
“In spurts our offensive line did well, but we have to pick up the blitz better,” he said. “That is what hurt us last year and people are going to blitz us until we can prove that we can pick it up a little bit better.”