Liberty County High School stands at 3-0 for the first time since 2009, when the Panthers made it to the second round of the AAA playoffs. The boys beat Sol. C Johnson High School, 40-20, on Thursday at Donell Woods Stadium.
Liberty’s sidelines were packed with more spectators than usual because the matchup was WSAV’s televised Thursday Night Blitz Game of the Week. In addition, Rivals.com, 247Sports and even a University of Florida scout attended to keep an eye on national prospect Raekwon McMillan, an LCHS linebacker.
A couple of McMillan’s teammates, senior linebacker Jeremy Caldwell-Fabregas and freshman safety Richard LeCounte, also generated buzz with their performances Thursday night.
Caldwell-Fabregas got completely behind Johnson’s secondary and hauled in a 65-yard pass. He also recorded a safety.
LeCounte simply does it all. He directs traffic in the back end on defensive, returns kicks and runs the ball. His 15-yard reverse set up McMillan’s first rushing touchdown in the second half. After getting slapped with a late-hit penalty, LeCounte leaped over a Johnson receiver in the corner of the end zone on the very next play, grabbing the ball for the first of his two interceptions in the game.
Always a presence on the field, McMillan didn’t deliver as many bone-crushing blows as usual, but he did put a pair of touchdowns on the board — the first one off of a 16-yard run in the third quarter. McMillan’s second touchdown was a jump pass he snagged from Panther quarterback Jordan Waters. Liberty receiver Freddie McSwain made a key block that sprung McMillan for a 62-yard jolt to the end zone, putting the Panthers up, 28-14, early in the fourth quarter.
In the early stages of the game, both teams struggled. Offensively, Liberty was stagnant and rife with penalties.
A bright spot for the Panthers in the first half was the play of senior lineman Jonathan Britton, who had successive tackles for losses to end Johnson’s second offensive series of the game. Liberty finally got on the scoreboard when Caldwell-Fabregas forced a safety, hitting the Johnson punter in the end zone. Panther quarterback Waters hit Jaquez Williams on successive passes for 8 and 13 yards, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run from Panther sophomore fullback Jacari Roberts. He added the 2-point conversion to give the Panthers a 10-0 lead going into halftime.
Johnson added a score in the third quarter, narrowing Liberty’s lead to 10-6. In the fourth quarter, when the Panthers were up 28-6, Johnson’s Dushad Morris ran the hook-and-ladder play to perfection, scoring on a 73-yard run. Down 28-14, Johnson blocked Liberty’s punt and scored again to make the score 28-20.
Running back Trentice Williams added his second score of the night with a 42-yard run. Junior JaMarcus Latson, on his first rush of the game, streaked through the middle of the field for a 66-yard touchdown run, putting the Panthers ahead for good, 40-20, with a minute left in the game.
Waters finished the night going 8-of-20 for 169 passing yards. Williams rushed for 80 yards, and JaMarcus Latson had a 65-yard rush. Offensively, McMillan averaged 6 yards a carry for 42 yards; LeCounte had 44 yards on five carries. The Liberty boys had 294 rushing yards in the contest.
Defensively, Caldwell-Fabregas and McMillan each had 12 total tackles. Caldwell-Fabregas led the team in sacks with three; McMillan had one.
Next week, the Panthers travel to sub-region opponent Cross Creek, who they beat, 42-7, last season.
“We are still very young, and we are still learning what it takes to be a champion. If we want to be considered the same type of program as Statesboro, Burke or Wayne, then we have to continue to grind in the weight room, continue to be physical and cut out the dumb mistakes that can keep us from our goal,” Panthers defensive coordinator Derrick Sills said. “This defense is getting better every day. A lot of people don’t know that we only had three returning starters back on defense, and you can’t coach experience. However, I like what I’m seeing. We are getting better fundamentally every day.”