All the sweat spilled during the sweltering summer camps, early morning workouts to get stronger and fights to get through endless injuries this season have more than been worth it for Liberty County.
The Panthers have only two losses and have won all five games at Donell Woods Stadium. Two of those wins have been against the traditional powers of Region 3-AAAA, Wayne County and perennial regional-title contender Burke County.
Last Friday, Liberty jumped out early on Burke, but the Bears rallied, forcing the fourth quarter to be the deciding factor of the game. As has been the case in close games this season, the Panthers defense stepped up and stopped Burke as the Bears were driving in the final minutes of the game to clinch the 26-20 win.
This Friday, the Panthers host the Thomson Bulldogs in a region game that could be key in determining who will win out in Region 3-AAAA and be the No. 1 seed going into the state playoffs.
Thomson is 5-1 this season, with Burke being its one loss. In six games, the Bulldogs’ offense has scored 278 points while the defense has given up only 117 points.
Thomson is led by head coach Rob Ridings, who should be a familiar face to Panther fans because of the number of years he spent at Glynn Academy. Ridings is in his second season at Thomson, where he learned to create a strong wing-T rushing attack under legendary Thomson head coach Luther Welsh. The Bulldogs’ rushing attack averages 155.4 yards per contest.
Running back Billy Mance has carried the ball 94 times for 777 yards — an average of 8.3 yards per carry — and scored
12 touchdowns. Sophomore Tyrek Braswell and junior Mike Thomas also have been strong backs for the Bulldogs.
Also, Thomson has an added threat in mobile quarterback Rashad Sturgis.
Defensively, Thomson shows multiple fronts, but gets to the point of attack quickly. Linebackers Nick Moss, Xzavious Lewis and Billy Youngblood lead the Bulldogs in tackles and have 11 sacks as a unit. Cornerback Christian Tutt has more than 20 NCAA Division I offers, including Georgia and Alabama. Besides exceptional secondary play, Tutt is a key component to the special teams as punt and kick returner.
Last season, Liberty lost 16-14 to Thomson on the road.
Kickoff on Friday is at 7:30 p.m.