Thanks to Tay Tay Bacon’s electrifying 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, it only took Liberty County High School about 12 seconds to find the end zone Friday night against unbeaten Richmond Hill.
The rest of the night didn’t follow the same script for the Panthers, who fell, 14-6, to the surprising Wildcats (5-0, 1-0).
The loss spoiled homecoming night in front of a large crowd. It also puts the Panthers (2-3, 0-1) into an early hole in the Region 2A-AAAA race. But put the emphasis on early, Liberty County coach Kirk Warner said.
“There are still a lot of games left to play,” he said. “I’m not sure anybody is going to go undefeated on this side of the region, because there are a lot of evenly matched teams. We’ll roll with the punches, put this game behind us and get ready for Brunswick.”
Still, it looked early as if the Panthers were about to give the Wildcats — off to their best start since 1996 — a rude introduction to subregion play.
After Bacon’s run, Liberty County got the ball back at the 20 when Richmond Hill missed a 40-yard field-goal try with 6:37 to go in the first quarter. That’s when it became apparent that the Panthers weren’t going to have an easy night of it.
In the first quarter, a holding call wiped out a 52-yard touchdown run from Shadrach Thornton, and Liberty County wound up turning the ball over on downs at Richmond Hill’s 30.
Late in the first half, Liberty County’s defense forced a Richmond Hill punt at the Wildcats’ 48. The kick came down around the 20, bounced a few times, then took a sharp right at the goal-line pylon and went out of bounds inside the Panthers’ 1.
Liberty County couldn’t move the ball and ran out the clock.
And in the fourth quarter, the Panthers were moving into Richmond Hill territory when a pass from Thornton, who was throwing from the Wildcat formation, was picked off by Richmond Hill defensive back Kyle Greening.
But the final straw for Liberty County came on the Panthers’ final possession with slightly more than 11 minutes left in the game.
Liberty put together a drive that began at the Panthers’ 25, managing to get all the way to the Wildcats’ 1-yard line before a flag for a false start moved the ball back to the 6.
Richmond Hill’s defense held, swarming Thornton on three straight carries and then stoppped Sam Carter, who wound up with the ball on fourth-and-goal, when Thornton appeared to pitch it to him while in the arms of defenders.
Carter was brought down and the Wildcats ran out the final 4:11.
“I have to credit our defense for the great scheme they had,” Richmond Hill coach Lyman Guy said. “Our kids have worked so hard during the offseason and the good Lord has blessed our efforts. It’s an amazing win for us against a very good team.”
The Wildcats were held to their lowest rushing total of the season Friday, running for 278 yards and two scores on 39 carries. But Richmond Hill’s defense held the Panthers to just 197 yards of offense — most of it on the ground. Liberty County didn’t attempt a pass until the third quarter.
Thornton finished with 87 yards on 22 carries.
“Our offense didn’t step up to the challenge tonight, but I thought we played well defensively until the end, when they got tired,” Warner said, noting this is the best Richmond Hill squad he’s seen in a decade.
“They’ve got more team speed than most of the teams we play,” he said. “The bottom line is they have got skill guys with speed and they beat us on the edge.”
The Wildcats scored in the second quarter on an 80-yard drive capped by a 2-yard run from T.J. Franklin, then added a touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard run from David Katzman to end a 13-play, 62-yard drive.
Katzman finished with a team-high 69 yards on nine carries for the Wildcats. Dominique Allen had 68 yards on 12 carries.
RH 0|7|0|7 — 14
LC 6|0|0|0 — 6
LC — Tay Tay Bacon 92 kick return (kick failed)
RH — TJ Franklin 2 run (Canon Rooker kick)
RH — David Katzman 2-run (Rooker kick)
First downs 15/11
Rushing yards 39-278/40-156
Passing yards 0/41
Total yards 278/197