The Long County Blue Tide football team was upset-minded on Friday, Oct. 25 as they welcomed in the Liberty County Panthers in a big Region 2-AAA matchup.
It was homecoming for the Blue Tide and, at halftime, it looked as though the home team could pull out what would have been a huge upset. But a slow start to the second half put the Tide behind as the Panthers pulled away 43-10.
Liberty County started with the ball at their own 20 after a touchback by Tide kicker Chris Garcia and it was quarterback Dionte Bowens’ ability to move around that pushed them down the field. On second and long, Bowens found room to run and ran out of bounds at the Liberty 34 for a big first down.
The Panthers were faced with a third and five from just past midfield and they kept it on the ground, this time to senior running back Markel Johnson. He was just short of the first down and that brought a fourth and one from the 41 yard line of Long County.
A high snap pushed the ball back across midfield and Bowens found himself running for his life. He rolled out to his left and found Johnson up across the 40 yard line for a first down on what looked to be a disastrous play for Liberty County.
Johnson got the call from the 25 and ran around in the back field before finding room up the sideline to get into the endzone. Luckily for the Tide, a penalty negated the long run and pushed the Panthers back across the 45. This was just enough for the Tide to force two incomplete passes and get the ball back on a punt.
The Tide offense lost a few yards on their first drive of the game before punting back to the Panthers. On their first play from their side of the 50, Nicholas Bennett caught a pitch and ran up the Panther sideline and inside the 30 yard line, setting up Liberty County in great field position.
Liberty County was faced with a second and short from inside the 15. Bowens dropped back to pass and found LD Mack on a quick shot across the middle for the touchdown. The extra point was no good and the Panthers led 6-0 late in the first quarter.
On the Tide’s first play of their second drive, freshman fullback Zion Gillard got the call up the middle. He broke open a big 36-yard run to get into Panther territory. The Tide kept driving and were eventually faced with a fourth and seven from the Panther 31 early in the second quarter.
Dominic Roschmann’s pass to Trajan Weatherspoon fell incomplete, but a defensive pass interference call kept the drive alive, giving the Tide first down at the 15. The Tide worked down inside the 10, but could not pick up a first down.
That is when they turned to kicker Garcia for a field goal attempt. Garcia’s 25-yard attempt was good, making the score 6-3. This was the Tide’s first made field goal of the season on just their third attempt. It was also the team’s first time scoring in four games, dating back to the win over Bryan County on September 16.
The Tide defense made arguably their biggest play of the first half as Jashon Carter wrapped up Johnson and forced a fumble. The defense recovered, giving the Blue Tide the ball at the Liberty 33.
A short loss and a penalty set the Tide up with a second and 16 from the Liberty 39. Roschmann dropped back to pass and found Weatherspoon over the middle on the slant. The senior broke one tackle and kept his feet as he raced into the endzone, giving the Tide a 10-6 lead midway through the second quarter and exciting the homecoming crowd.
The Panthers answered with a lengthy drive, led mostly by Johnson on the ground, but it was Bennett that finished the drive off. He took the handoff on a counter and raced 40 yards for the touchdown. A two-point conversion gave the Panthers a 14-10 lead. The Tide could not answer with their next drive, but were content to go into the locker room down just four points to one of the best teams in the state.
At halftime, Long County crowned its homecoming court. Freshman princess was Mariah Tooley, sophomore princess was Aizalea Fejeran, junior princess was Liz Wingate, and the 2019 Homecoming Queen was Veanney Gomez.
The teams came back out from halftime and the Tide started with the ball at their own 15 yard line. On the second play, Roschmann’s pass was short and intercepted by Bennett. He returned it down inside the 10, giving the Panthers a lot of momentum to start the second half.
Faced with a third down, Bowens rolled out to his right and found Bennett. He made a move and got into the endzone. The two point conversion was no good and the score remained 20-10 Liberty County.
The next drive for the Tide was nothing short of catastrophic. They were forced to punt after three plays and the snap went over the head of punter Joseph Cammack. He was able to kick the ball out the back of the endzone, giving the Panthers a safety and a 22-10 lead. Cammack was called for illegal kicking, backing the Tide up to their 10 on the ensuing free kick.
The Panthers had a very short field to work on their next drive and worked their way down inside the five. From two yards out, Bowens was able to push his way into the endzone for the touchdown. The two-point conversion made the score 30-10 and seemingly out of reach for the Blue Tide.
The Tide kept fighting and took over from their 35 after a penalty on the kickoff. Calvin Fate got the handoff on a third and 11 and took the sweep down the Tide sideline and across the 40. However, a holding penalty cost them big and made it a third and very long.
Long County was not able to pick up the third and long and were forced to punt. Another bad snap was handled well by Cammack but he was not able to get the punt off. The Panthers recovered the fumble inside the Tide 10, setting them up with amazing field position again.
It looked as though the Panthers were going to get into the endzone and extend their lead, but on the second play, Dillon Lopez forced a fumble, which was recovered by the Blue Tide. The Tide could not hold on to the ball very long though as a fumble gave the Panthers the ball back inside the 10 again.
Marques Johnson got the call on the next play and plunged his way into the endzone to make the score 36-10. On their next drive, Long County got a little movement thanks to a Weatherspoon reception as time ticked off the clock in the third quarter.
The Tide had a few negative plays and a penalty, which set them up with a third and long from their own 34. Roschmann heaved up a pass down the sideline and it was intercepted by Anthony Parker, giving the Panthers the ball at their 30.
The Panthers again went on another lengthy drive and got down inside the five. Bowens called his own number and was able to get into the endzone for his second rushing touchdown of the game. The extra point made the score 43-10 and the clock ticked away to make the final score.
With the loss, the Tide fall to 1-7 and 0-3 in the region while Liberty improves to 5-1 and 2-1, clinching a playoff berth. The Tide play at Tattnall County (0-8, 0-3) next week and must win to stay in playoff contention. Liberty travels to Brantley County (4-4, 1-2) in a big region game.