The Liberty County Panthers (11-2) saw their historic 2016 season come to an end when they fell to the Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans (12-1) in triple overtime 44-38.
This was a quarterfinals game for a spot in the Final Four of the 2016 AAA state football playoffs and it did not disappoint.
The Spartans, led by the nation’s second-ranked quarterback Davis Mills, wasted little time getting on the board.
Mills found Harrison Sloan wide open on a 40 yard bomb to take the lead 7-0 in a less than two minute drive.
The Panthers did not let that deter them, however, as they answered right back after quarterback Jaalon Frazier found Richard LeCounte from 35 yards out to make the score 7-7.
The Liberty County defense came up big on the next drive as Joshua Washington forced a fumble, which bounced out of bounds and Kiron Rhodes made a big play tipping away a pass on third down, forcing a Spartan punt on a three and out.
The Panthers’ offense did what it has all year as running back Kris Coleman broke out into the open field and raced 78 yards for a touchdown, giving the Panthers a 14-7 lead and a lot of hope.
Mills helped his team out once again when he found Kyler McMichael, who raced 39 yards to the Liberty 29 yard line. Mills then finished off the drive just three plays later as he found the endzone on the ground from seven yards out, making the score 14-14 at the end of the first quarter.
The Panthers and Spartans traded punts on the next two drives and Liberty County found themselves deep in their own territory at the 11. The Panthers drove down the field and faced a third and 11 from the GAC 32.
Frazier’s pass in the endzone was intended for LeCounte, but the Spartans’ own No. 4 came up with a play. Trey Morrison snatched the ball out of the air and got a touchback for the Spartans.
Mills made some big plays for the Spartans on the ensuing drive, running 13 yards and passing to Sloan for 11. They were set up for a Brooks Buce field goal attempt from 37 yards out, but it sailed wide right and the Panthers took over.
Liberty County could not take advantage of the turnover as they punted the ball away and the Spartans took over at the 50.
The defense stood tall once again and Buce was called out by the Spartans, but this time, the Panthers blocked the field goal.
The score stood at 14 all going into halftime and that score eventually held through the third quarter.
The Panthers were the first to strike in the second half as Frazier found his way into the endzone from two yards out to make the score 21-14 early in the final period.
Sloan made a big play for the Spartans as he returned the ensuing kickoff inside Liberty County territory and to the 22 yard line.
Two plays later, Mills capped off the drive and found Sloan in the endzone to tie the score once again.
The Panthers did all they could to run out the clock on the next drive as they worked the clock down inside four minutes. Alec Sutton came through in the clutch and nailed a 34-yard field goal to make the score 24-21.
Mills, however, proved why he is on the best quarterbacks in the country as he led his team down inside Panther territory and Buce had a chance to redeem himself. He nailed a 22 yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
The Panthers had first possession and LeCounte ended up finishing off the drive with a one yard dive. The Spartans were backed up five yards following a penalty on the extra point attempt, but that did not phase Mills.
He found Sloan in the endzone from 20 yards out to tie the score at 31 and send the game to a second overtime. He then threw a second consecutive touchdown as he found Max Burke from 15 yards out to give the Spartans a 38-31 lead.
The Panthers worked their way down inside the five yard line and LeCounte found Elisha Polite on a two-yard jump pass to make the score 38-37.
Liberty head coach Kirk Warner had a decision to make as he decided to go for the two-point conversion and the win.
However, a substitution infraction on the Panthers backed them up five yards, forcing them to kick the extra point and go to a third overtime period.
This would be the Panthers’ downfall. They could not get into the endzone as they faced a fourth and 18 following a busted reverse trick play. The Spartans took advantage and Mills found Trent Fowler for his fifth passing score of the night to make the final 44-38.
The Panthers end their season with an 11-2 record, but can still revel in the fact that they won the 2016 2-AAA region championship going into the 2017 season.