This season, the Liberty County Panthers have only four Region 3-AAAA teams to contend with. But it won’t make their battles on the gridiron any easier.
There are certain region teams the staff has on its radar.
“You have to lump Burke and Wayne County together,” Panther head coach Kirk Warner said when asked about which region teams are going to present the biggest challenge this season. “Wayne made it to the final four last year, and I think Burke is only two years removed from a state championship, so I have to put them on our schedules as the teams to beat.”
Panther offensive coordinator Ryan Glazer raised the stakes a bit higher, adding there are just as many non-region teams that will be tough.
He agreed that when it comes to region opposition, Wayne and Burke counties are going to be tough.
The Bears won the state title in 2011, going 14-1. They made the playoffs in 2012 and 2013, but fell in the semifinals. Last year, Wayne County made it to the semifinals and fell, 25-20, against Griffin and finished 12-3 overall.
“Thomson was in the finals two years ago,” Glazer said, adding them to the list of big region games.
He added that non-region teams Benedictine and Richmond Hill are on his watch list. The Cadets made it to the semifinals last year, and the Wildcats also had a longer playoff run than the Panthers did.
“This year’s schedule is definitely tougher than it’s been in the last two years,” Glazer added.
Assistant coach Ryan Books, who lived in Richmond Hill, said he said has the Wildcats game circled on his calendar, as is the Aug. 29 contest against crosstown-rival Bradwell Institute.
“You really don’t understand it until you become a part of it, and it is a big rivalry,” Books said, adding last year was the first time he experienced the intensity of the game.
But Books put it in perspective, saying that although the game counts toward wins and losses, it’s not a region contest.
“It is fun,” he said. “These guys have friends that play there. With a new coach, I am sure they (Bradwell) are going to be excited … and it’s going to be at their place … yes, we’ve talked about that game.” Books said right now, however, the main focus is next Friday, when the Panthers play South Effingham.
When defensive-line coach Corbin Striplan thinks about region play, he said Thomson is likely to be a tough game. The Bulldogs finished the 2013 campaign only 3-7 overall. But the losses came against powerhouse teams like Washington County, Pierce County, Greater Atlanta Christian, Lakeside and other Atlanta-area teams.
“And looking at the non-region games, Richmond Hill had a good season last year, and I don’t see why they wouldn’t have another good season this year with the personnel coming back,” he said. “Then, I would say Monroe out of Albany, just due to the unknown factor.”
Monroe went 6-5 last year, falling in the first round of the playoffs to Wayne County. Again, most of the Tornadoes’ losses came against big Atlanta-area schools.
Richmond Hill has a new head coach this year after Lyman Guy accepted a position at Toombs County. It’s likely not much strategy will change there, however, as former offensive coordinator Josh Eads is now the head coach.
“The game that always steps out at me is Wayne County,” offensive line coach Josh Davis said. “They seem to have our number … we want to secure that home-field advantage for the playoffs. We would love to get that first seed or second seed by beating Burke or Wayne or both.”
Warner said he likes the smaller region schedule.
“I’ve been dealing with sub-regions, it seems, for 10 of the 12 years I’ve been here, so it’s a nice blessing to have a small region for a change and let the games on the field decide who is going to be the best four to get into the playoffs,” he said.