Zo Smalls ran for three touchdowns in the first half, and the Savannah Christian Raiders exploded for a 63-21 win over the Liberty County Panthers at Donell Woods Stadium on Thursday night.
Smalls ran for 150 of his game-high 168 yards in the first half as the Raiders (8-2) built a 49-0 lead at the half. The Raiders amassed 433 yards of offense and 19 first downs in the first half and scored on their first eight possessions.
Blaise Thomas went 11-of-15 passing for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Savannah Christian’s defense held the Panthers to 1 rushing yard on 18 attempts in the first half.
“That’s a good football team,” Panthers coach Tony Glazer said of the Raiders. “They’re going to play for a few more weeks. Everything they do is crisp and precise you have to do everything perfectly to make a play against them.”
The Panthers, who finished the year at 3-7, got on the board on their first possession of the second half. Carlos Singleton and Jeremiah Payne hooked up three times for 55 yards on the drive, the final eight coming as Payne made a catch at the pylon for a touchdown.
Singleton added a 44-yard run in the fourth quarter and threw a 4-yard scoring strike between two defenders to Payne to close out the scoring.
Singleton, in his final game as a Panther, threw for 144 yards on 14 of 23 passing.
Elijah Griffin, the 6-foot-5, 285-pound defensive end rated as the No. 2 prospect in the nation among the class of 2025, had two sacks against the Panthers.
The Panthers played without senior receiver Ron Golden, who was out with an injury. Golden finished his senior season with 347 yards receiving and four touchdowns on 33 receptions.
Senior Jeremiah Payne became a threat as the season went and finished with a team-high 550 yards and seven touchdowns on 23 catches. Junior Jalen Hurd, who had 28 catches for 414 yards and four touchdowns, will be the leading returning receiver next year.
In all, the Panthers will graduate about 18 seniors from this year’s team.
Where the Panthers struggled on offense was running the ball. They averaged just over 100 yards per game and had just 13 rushing touchdowns as a team. Singleton, who threw for over 1,400 yards in his senior season, was also the team’s leading rusher.
The Panthers’ schedule included two region foes who were in the top five of Class AAA teams – No. 1 ranked Calvary Day and the fifth-ranked Raiders – plus the No. 3-ranked team in Class AA, Pierce County.
Long County, with its win over Johnson on Friday night, secured the No. 4 seed from Region 3-AAA and will travel to play Mary Persons in the first round of the playoffs. Calvary Day, benefit of a forfeit from Beach in the last game of the regular season, opens the postseason at home against Jackson. Savannah Country Day, the No. 3 seed, visits Upson-Lee, and Savannah Christian gets Peach County to open the playoffs.
Glazer expressed to his players to look at their experience this year in a positive frame, imploring them to enjoy the good times.
“There are no bad times if you look about this way, that they get to play with their brothers every day after school, play games. Only team in triple-A is going to be happy, and that’s the team that wins a state championship,” he said. “I wanted them to feel the emotion, letting them know this is going to be the last time playing on the same field with these guys.”