"We did something that nobody ever thought we could do, and they can never take that away from you," Liberty County High School Panther football coach Kirk Warner said to his 2009 squad after a heart wrenching 36-9 loss Friday to the Red Devils in Jackson.
This year’s LCHS team was the first to win a playoff game.
The Panthers’ quest for a championship ended at the hands of the still undefeated Red Devil squad, even though they played without Gator committed defensive back Neiron Ball. Jackson’s standout running back Quint McKibben made the game a one-man show, dominating the Devils’ offense and scoring nearly all their touchdowns.
Whether it was jitters or an attempt to change the snap count, the Panthers’ offense mishandled several snaps, dropping the ball for losses or turnovers in the first half. The Red Devils’ special team kept the pressure on punter Eddie Chipple, causing short punts and giving Jackson a short field on more than one occasion.
The Red Devils had the ball first and marched the length of the field to score a touchdown and eat up five minutes.
The Panthers’ first offensive drive was stopped and pushed back, forcing a fourth and 13 and a punt by Chipple. He was able to get the ball off, despite a
high snap and defensive pressure, but the kick was short and the Devils took over at the 42-yard line.
At the start of the second, the Panthers offense was on the field, but was pushed back to their own four-yard line. The Red Devils forced another punt. Maintaining the pressure on Chipple, the punt traveled only six yards and was caught by a Devil, who was brought down by an illegal tackle. Jackson had the ball at the Panthers’ five-yard line, setting up their second touchdown to lead 14-0.
Panther Artavious Frost had a 20-yard kick return, setting up the offense at the 30-yard line, but the snap was fumbled on the next play, pushing them back 10 yards. The punt team ended the drive.
The Red Devils took over, but were met with a strong Panther defense, forcing the Devils to punt on fourth and long. The Devils lined up for the kick, but instead passed the ball for a first down completion, setting up another Devil touchdown to close the half 21-0.
The Panthers tried to mount a drive before halftime, but a dropped pass and another fumbled snap sent them to the locker room scoreless.The opening drive in the third quarter showed a Panther offense the fans were used to seeing. Quarterback Julian Stokes connected to Kris Crawford for a pass and running back Shadrach Thornton found gaps. Stokes and Thornton carried the offense across the field and Stokes hit Thornton for a short pass, which he carried into the end zone for the Panthers’ only touchdown of the game.
However, the Devils answered quickly with another touchdown to go up 28-7 and later scored a safety.
The Panthers scored their own safety in the fourth quarter, but the Red Devils hit the end zone once more, missing the PAT to end the night with the 36-9 win.
"It’s still been a wonderful season," Warner told the team after the game. "You are going to have obstacles in life and the key thing is how we are going to respond to this, not only in football, but in the game of life. And this is just a minor setback."
Warner told his younger players to thank their seniors, saying they were the ones who have set the new standard that future squads must uphold.
"All our seniors have been outstanding for us," Warner said. "We appreciate everything they have done for us. I take my hat off to those guys. I love them to death."