The first quarter of Friday night’s game between Effingham County and Liberty County may have been a bit alarming for the Panthers, since the Rebels managed to run 11 minutes and 40 seconds off the clock.
But the visitors drew a number of penalties to keep them off the scoreboard and, in the end, the Panthers settled down for an 18-12 win.
Liberty County’s first possession didn’t last long. After the Rebels were forced to punt and Shadrach Thornton returned the kick to the Effingham 38-yard-line, the Panthers fumbled on their first play from scrimmage.
“We have some things that are fixable that we have to work on,” Warner said. “We can’t come out on the first series with good field position and fumble the ball. You can’t give a team like this an opportunity to score two or three times in the red zone and we definitely can’t do that next week against Statesboro.”
Effingham County took advantage of the turnover to go up 6-0. The Panthers blocked the extra point, but turned the ball over again on the ensuing kickoff.
After holding the Rebels, the Panthers went to work. Runs by Thornton and quarterback Jerome Grant and a carry by Sam Carter put Liberty at the Rebels’ 46. Thornton turned on the after-burners on the next carry and hit the end zone for his first of three touchdowns, but Rebels were able to block the point after.
On Effingham’s next possession, the Rebels drove to the Liberty 42-yard line before four straight penalties and a tackle for a loss pushed them back to their own 8 and forced a punt.
Liberty couldn’t do anything with the ball, and the Rebel offense took over again with two minutes left before halftime. That’s when Panther cornerback Cameron Livingston picked off a pass and returned it to midfield with 1:46 remaining and Thornton scored on a 13-yard touchdown run a few plays later to put Liberty ahead 12-6. The Panthers two-point conversion attempt failed
The Panthers went up 18-6 on Thornton’s third TD run of the night, capping a 65-yard drive to open the third quarter.
Liberty’s defense also made life tough for Effingham County. Melvin King and Anthony Dabson pursued and pressured the Rebels' QB all night, exchanging sacks and tackles for loss. Tay Tay Bacon had a big hit that stopped a touchdown run. Raekwon McMillan had another big tackle for loss and Cory Lazenby nearly picked off a pass, drew a roughing-the-kicker call and followed that up with back-to-back tackles on runs to open the fourth quarter. Dabson stuffed a run at the line of scrimmage, then had another sack in the back field and pressured the quarterback into throwing the ball away and forcing another Effingham punt.
Effingham scored with less than 10 seconds left in the game to pull to within 18-12, but a two-point conversion attempt failed.
The Rebels tried an onside kick, but Thornton fell on the ball to seal the win.
“It was a tough battle but sometimes we need games like this to see how the kids are going to respond,” Warner said. “I felt once we settled down and got our offense going we got the confidence. Both sides of the ball breed off the other, once we got a score, defense held their own until the last series.”
The Panthers are 2-1 overall and will travel to Statesboro next week. Last year, the Panthers handed the Blue Devils a stunning 29-0 loss. Warner expects Statesboro to be ready to avenge that loss. The Blue Devils (2-0) currently are ranked No. 3 in Class AAAA.
“We have to come back to work Monday and get busy,” he said.