The Liberty County Panthers met the Long County Blue Tide in a next-county and Region 2-AAA match-up Friday night. The Panthers stayed perfect in region play as they rolled the Tide on their way to a 39-12 victory.
The Panthers came into the game looking to guarantee a state playoff spot, their fourth straight. They did just that with a 25-point effort in the third quarter, but it was not an easy start for Liberty, as the Blue Tide were pesky throughout the first half.
After the Panthers’ defense came up with a three and out to open the game, their offense looked to get on the board first. However, a big hit on quarterback Jaalon Frazier forced a fumble, which was recovered by the Tide at their own 29-yard line.
The Blue Tide, however, could not take advantage of the turnover and they punted on a second straight three and out. This time, the Panthers worked their way down the field and finally found the end zone.
A 10-yard touchdown pass from Frazier to Richard LeCounte gave the Panthers a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter. This score was set up by Willie Roberts’ 13-yard reception on a fourth down and four in Blue Tide territory.
The Blue Tide wasted little time answering. Tariq Carpenter returned the ensuing kickoff 20 yards to his team’s own 48-yard line. The Tide were faced with their own fourth down in Liberty County territory when quarterback Elijah Wright hit wide receiver Jack Lauver with a 22-yard strike to the 24.
One play later, the Blue Tide tied the game at six with a bomb from Wright to Jamin Davis.
The Panthers, however, rolled down the field again as Frazier found running back Elisha Polite from five yards out to give his team a 14-6 lead after the two-point conversion.
The Panthers got the ball back after a big stop on the ensuing defensive drive. With time ticking down, they looked to add to the score before halftime and began to drive into Blue Tide territory.
With a goal-to-go situation, Tide freshman cornerback Treyon Davis made a big play, tackling wide receiver Roberts short of the end zone and bringing up a fourth down. On the ensuing play, Frazier threw an interception at the goalline after immense pressure from Tide defenders Holden Riddle and Gerald Williams.
The Tide ran out the clock and went into the locker room down just eight points and with a lot of confidence.
However, the Panthers seemed to turn a switch in the second half.
They opened the third quarter with a drive that last more than four minutes and drove more than 70 yards. It ended with Frazier finding his way into the end zone from two yards out, giving the Panthers a 20-6 lead.
The Panthers’ defense finally made a big play as Alvin Roberts intercepted a Wright pass and returned just short of the end zone. Frazier capped off the one-play drive with a touchdown, making the score 26-6 in favor of the Panthers.
The Blue Tide’s offense found little success in the third quarter other than a 14-yard pass to Davis. The Tide were forced to punt just three plays later.
The Panthers continued to add to their lead in the second half and Frazier seemed unstoppable by hitting LeCounte with a 35-yard play into the red zone. Just a few plays later, Frazier threw his third touchdown pass of the night as he hit LeCounte, who grabbed his second score of the night, from eight yards out on a leaping play at the goal line.
Down 32-6 late in the third quarter, the Blue Tide looked to chip away at Liberty’s lead. However, Wright threw his second interception of the night as LeCounte snagged the pass and raced 25 yards for a touchdown, making the score 39-6.
With a running clock in the fourth quarter and back-ups in for the Panthers, the Blue Tide hoped to keep confidence high for the rest of the season. Tripp Stapleton came in at quarterback and led the team down the field and got into the end zone on a 19-yard scramble, making the final score.
Frazier finished the night 20 of 29 passing with 246 yards and three touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. LeCounte had 95 yards receiving and two scores with the interception return for touchdown.
The Panthers advanced to 7-1 overall and 3-0 on the season and look to lock up a home game in the first round of the state playoffs next Friday as they host the Brantley County Blue Herons for Senior Night.
The Blue Tide fall to 1-4-2 overall 0-3 and are now in a must-win situation in the next two weeks to possibly lock up the first state playoff appearance in team history. They host the Tattnall County Battle Creek Warriors next Friday in their Senior Night game as well.