It was a battle between two Panther teams, one looking to defend their home field, the other looking to duplicate the results from last year’s opener.
Americus-Sumter rolled into Donell Woods Stadium and nearly mirrored the final score from last season by defeating the home team 21-6 in four physical quarters.
But the score, as in many cases, doesn’t tell the full story. Americus didn’t come in and dominate the home team. In fact, the visiting squad was offensively penalty plagued when compared to Liberty. It was errors on Liberty’s part combined with a lack of confidence in their long snaps that gave Americus the advantage.
Panther running back Shadrach Thornton had the bulk of the carries, unofficially tallying more than 150 yards in the game. Sam Carter did his share, nearing the century mark as well.
The home team was able to get inside the red zone, they just weren’t able to punch the pigskin into the end zone.
The home team’s only touchdown came in the third quarter when the defense swarmed the visitors’ offense.
They were forced to punt and hit a short one, giving the Liberty squad the ball at the opposition’s 33-yard line. Sam Carter rushed for a first down and Thornton did the rest for the Panthers touchdown. The home team went for a two-point conversion but failed.
It was that missed conversion and two other turnovers on fourth down inside the red zone that kept the home team from adding points on the board.
On the ensuing kick, Liberty’s Darion Mallette kicked it low and short and Liberty’s special team was able to jump on it to give their offense another shot at the end zone.
“No it wasn’t intentional,” Panther coach Kirk Warner said when asked if he set up the onside kick. “But we watched film and we saw there was a gap and I really wanted to pooch kick it to that gap, but he hit it wrong. But our guys still hustled down there and recovered the thing.”
Liberty was able to get inside the 12-yard line, but the defense held them back and the Panthers’ went for it on fourth down instead of attempting a field goal.
In the third quarter, Americus fumbled the ball and Anthony Dabson scooped it up and made it to the 22-yard line. Thornton brought it to the 10, but the home team soon faced a fourth down, went for it, and missed the mark, giving Americus the ball.
“Right now we are just not confident in our snaps,” Warner said about going for it more than once on fourth down. “We got a good kicker but our snap and hold are little shaky right now. Once we get that ironed down…you want to win all the games of course we just need a little bit more time in that aspect of the game.”
Defensively, the home team played well, drawing few penalties except for one unsportsmanlike conduct call after Raekwon McMillan sacked the quarterback and later someone drew a five yard face mask call. Tay Tay Bacon and Rodney Goffney covered their receivers, breaking up two possible touchdown passes. McMillan, Melvin King, Javious James, Darin Townsend and Anthony Dabson each got a piece of the quarterback and kept him under pressure for the better part of the game.
Americus scored first after Liberty fumbled the ball. Their second touchdown, just before the half, came after the unsportsmanlike conduct call and the facemask penalty placed the visitors inside the seven.
Two plays later the visiting team was up 14-0.
“We made too many mistakes again,” Warner said. “You can’t turn the ball over against a good team like this. We had an early fumble that gave them six points. We tried to go for it here late and gave them another six points. Defense played well. The offense played well in spurts but you can’t get the ball inside the 20 three times and not come up with any points and expect to win games. We have to get a certain mentality, once you get within the red zone, where we have to punch that thing in.”
Americus’ last touchdown came late in the fourth quarter to win 21-6.
Liberty is home again next week hosting McIntosh Academy.