Within a span of six minutes in the first quarter, the Liberty County Panthers on Friday night made a statement to Cross Creek — not on our turf.
The Panthers had a series of plays that propelled the team to a 42-7 win by the end of regulation at Donell Woods Stadium for LCHS’ homecoming game.
Twenty of those points came in the last six minutes of the first quarter. The Panthers were at their own 22 when quarterback JJ Grant held the ball and ran to the 47-yard line. Andre Haggray ran the ball to the 32 before the Razorbacks defense held the Panthers on the next two plays. On fourth and 15, the Panthers went for it and Grant sold the fake handoff to Raekwon McMillan. Grant then tossed the ball to Jeremy Caldwell-Fabergas, who made his way to the 9-yard line. McMillan eventually punched the ball in for the touchdown, but Joaquin Lemapu’s extra-point attempt was wide left.
The Razorbacks attempted to start their next offensive drive but immediately turned the ball over, and the Panthers were at Cross Creek’s 36. Grant found Fabergas again, who leaped between two defenders for the catch and ran in for another touchdown. McMillan made a two-point conversion.
Liberty was up 14-0.
The Razorbacks went to a passing game, and Panther defender Cory Lazenby intercepted the ball in full stride and scored another Panther touchdown. The point-after was missed, but Liberty found itself up 20-0 before the end of the first quarter.
Cross Creek started to develop its offensive game in the second quarter but struggled with penalties and another picked-off pass by Panther Rashawn Harris.
With two minutes left before halftime, Panther Cornelius Butler attempted to intercept another Razorback pass and collided with Cross Creek’s receiver. That delayed the game for a few minutes as the player was placed on a backboard and taken to Liberty Regional Medical Center as a precautionary measure.
The Razorbacks did manage to avoid a first-half shutout by scoring just before intermission.
During halftime, 2011 homecoming queen Cynthia Kornegay crowned 2012 homecoming queen Janelle Stokes.
The Panthers started the third quarter with a 40-yard kick return by DJ Bratcher. Grant hit a gap on the outside and ran the ball to the Razorbacks’ 33. Haggray then marched the ball to the 18. This time, however, the Razorbacks stuffed the offense and took over on downs at the 19.
The Panthers committed some costly errors. During the Razorbacks’ drive at the 19, Fabergas picked off a pass and ran it back for a touchdown that was called back for holding. Later, the Panthers took possession, and Butler made a run into the red zone and coughed up the ball as he was taken down at the 4-yard line.
“We had a mental mistake there, and we are kind of upset about that,” Panther coach Kirk Warner said about the lost points. “But we are playing aggressive and that is a good thing. We can always reel them in a bit, but you can’t always get the players to play at that level, so as long as they stay aggressive we can kind of give them a Mulligan, but we definitely don’t need to do that again.”
Looking to make up for mistakes, the Panther defense stood strong and McMillan earned the Panthers a safety to go up 22-7.
Haggray and Jordan Moody put in a lot of yards on the ground and set up the Panther offense at the 17, but Liberty soon faced a fourth down and tried for a field goal and missed.
The Panther defense didn’t give the Razorbacks a lane to run through or an open receiver and they were forced to punt. The ball went nearly straight up then straight down, giving the Panthers the ball at the Razorbacks’ 33 to start the fourth quarter.
Grant ran the ball to the 15. Grant was replaced by Jordan Waters to bring fresh legs to the offense, and McMillan had enough energy to run the ball to the 3-yard line. That set up another McMillan touchdown and Liberty went up 29-7.
Seconds later, McMillan recovered a Razorback turnover around the 25-yard line and ran it back for another Panther score, giving the home team a 36-7 lead.
“Raekwon and Jeremy have really stepped up their game,” Warner said. “Both of these guys have given us a two-way threat. We had some injuries to our top two receivers so we had to find some playmakers and they have stepped it up.”
Cross Creek couldn’t secure the ball against the Panthers’ pounding defense and on the very next drive coughed up the ball. Panther Darin Townsend scooped up the pigskin and put the nail in the coffin for Cross Creek, scoring the Panthers’ final touchdown on a 7-yard return.
A bad snap didn’t let Lemapu add the extra point, but it was all over by then.
Cross Creek ran the ball 60 yards for a touchdown but it was called back on a holding call. Exhausted, the Razorbacks couldn’t capitalize even when the Panthers pulled their starters. The Panthers are 3-1 overall and head to Hephzibah next week.