South Effingham edged out the Liberty County Panthers, 9-7, in Friday’s scrimmage at Donell Woods Stadium. Despite the loss, the Panthers’ coaching staff saw enough action to decide on a starting quarterback. Coaches also were relieved to see that even though former standout linebacker Raekwon McMillan is gone, defense didn’t skip a beat.
A few early mistakes gave the Mustangs good field position in the first quarter.
Panther Richard LeCounte plowed through a South Effingham player, hitting him so hard LeCounte’s helmet flew off. He was penalized for tackling above the shoulders, a new regulation this year, so the Liberty boys gave the Mustangs a first down. The next Mustang to touch the ball also was slow to get up after being pounded by Calvin Holmes. The referees felt Holmes led with his head and tossed the yellow flag.
That set the Mustangs up just beyond midfield.
South Effingham also had its series of miscues, however. Two holding calls and a false start placed the Mustangs at third and 32. As the opposing team looked to throw, Panther Anthony Stewart broke free and sacked the quarterback as time elapsed on the quarter.
Panther quarterback Walker Franklin looked composed throughout the first quarter. The center, however, had several high snaps, causing the offensive timing to be off. It kept Franklin from completing passes or forced him to scramble. The Mustangs took advantage, getting in a few sacks.
“In a zone read, timing is everything, so we definitely need to have our snaps down,” Liberty head coach Kirk Warner said after the game. “We couldn’t even run a sweep because we were worried about the snap. We need to get that down before next Friday.”
Franklin demonstrated patience in the pocket and his ability to run the option. Other than the high snaps, the Panther offense drew only one false start and one delay of game in the first half.
The Mustangs scored in the second quarter, four minutes shy of the half. The South Effingham team marched 55 yards to the Panthers’ 15 before LCHS’ Tracy White stuffed a potential touchdown run. But the Mustangs scored on the next play and added an extra point to go up 7-0.
With two minutes and 30 seconds before the half, Franklin completed a pass to Chris Helvie. The Mustangs brought Helvie down with an illegal tackle, and the Panthers had a first down on the 46-yard line.
Franklin, a Wayne County transfer, then hit Gyri Durant. The coaching staff put LeCounte in for a brief stint on offense. The standout sophomore nearly made a catch and drew a pass-interference call. The Liberty boys were on the Mustangs’ 15.
Panther Jarquel Richardson ran the ball to the 10-yard line and two plays later, JaMarcus Latson crossed the goal line. Joaquin Lemapu made the extra point to tie the game, 7-7.
With 30 seconds left before the half, Liberty’s offense regained possession. Franklin ran the ball to within field goal range, and coaches called for a timeout with eight seconds remaining. The Mustangs jumped off-sides and, despite being closer, the field-goal attempt fell short.
In the second half, the Mustangs’ offensive drive was killed when Jacari Roberts and AJ Stewart sacked the South Effingham’s quarterback on third and long.
The Panther offense took over, looking to capitalize. Instead, the Panthers made their biggest offensive error.
LCHS’ offense coughed up the ball, and the Mustangs recovered it at the Panthers’ 20.
“We can’t do that, and (JaMarcus) Latson knows that … he is a senior,” Warner said. “It was a busted play and we have to live to play another play, not play Superman out there when they have you wrapped up. Sometimes, you just have to go down. I hope he learned his lesson and next week, hopefully, he will not make that mistake.”
The Mustangs were poised to pull ahead when the Panthers’ defense again stepped up to the challenge. The South Effingham boys were on the half-yard line and LCHS’ defense stuffed them back for a loss. Lemapu made another big hit, keeping the Mustangs at the line of scrimmage. Tucker Lyda followed that up with another hit to deny the Mustang’s a touchdown.
South Effingham was forced to try a field goal. They scrambled for the ball off a bad snap, and the Panther offense took over on downs, but they were buried near their own goal line.
The Mustangs blitzed and Franklin was hit in the end zone.
The South Effingham team took a 9-7 lead.
Panther Jaalon Frazier was given a shot at the quarterback spot midway through the third quarter.
Frazier demonstrated versatility, running the ball for 15 yards and completing passes to Helvie and Richardson for another 20-yard gain. Frazier looked to Durant and the Panthers got an interference call in their favor, putting them at the eight-yard line.
Fearing a field-goal attempt might fall short again, the Panthers went for a touchdown run on fourth down but were dropped for a loss.
By the time the third quarter ended, the Panther staff had decided who most likely will start next week when LCHS hosts Effingham County for the season opener.
“I think Walker played well enough. That panned out ... Jaalon did a pretty good job in relief, so we are comfortable with either one of them. But right now, Franklin will probably start next week.”
The junior-varsity players hit the field in the fourth quarter, and the Panthers drove down to the Mustangs’ 20, but the game ended on an incomplete pass.
The Panthers start their regular season next week when the Rebels come to town. By then, Warner said, there is no more learning curve.
“We have to come out firing on all cylinders next week. … We can’t waste a quarter … offensively … we only ran six offensive plays in the first quarter. Our defense is good, but we can’t let them stay out on the field all night long.”
Next Friday’s game against Effingham County at Donell Woods Stadium is at 7:30 p.m.