HINESVILLE – Liberty County started the night with an 0-3 record, but reversed its fortune in explosive fashion.
The Panthers scored 20 points in the opening 8:55 and never looked back, rolling to a 29-0 victory over 10th ranked Statesboro Friday.
Things went wrong for the Blue Devils (3-1) from the opening whistle.
Dequan Daniels fielded the opening kick, but was stripped of the football. Statesboro recovered, but the offense quickly stalled and a botched snap on a punt gave Liberty the ball inside the 5 yard line and quarterback Matt Desbiens ran it in three plays later from one yard out.
“Those early mistakes may have indicated that our focus was not where it needed to be,” said Pennington. “When the lights come on Friday night, you only get one chance to play. We just weren’t quite ready.”
The hits kept coming for the Devils as they went three-and-out on their next drive to give the Panthers possession near midfield.
Liberty was quick to strike again, and got a little luck to boot.
Desbiens went 4-for-4 through the air on the drive and hit receiver Alton Sapp inside the Statesboro 5 yard line. Two SHS defenders lodged the ball loose as Sapp fought for yards, but Panther running back Shadrach Thornton dove on the loose ball in the end zone for Liberty’s second score.
Things went from bad to worse on the Devils’ next drive.
Faced with 3rd-and-20, SHS quarterback Reid Pennington dropped back to pass, but was quickly pressured. Pennington took a hit as he released the ball and Demetrick Mothershed picked off the pass. Mothershed returned the interception to the Statesboro 4 and Thornton went the rest of the way on the next play. The extra point was missed, but the Panthers had already built a commanding 20-0 lead.
“We really had to endure just about everything that could have gone wrong,” said Pennington. “We had some bad luck and we made some mistakes of our own doing. It really made things hard for us.”
Liberty County added two more points in the second quarter as Panther defenders burst through the Statesboro offensive line to bring Daniels down in the end zone for a safety.
Aside from costly turnovers, the biggest factor in the loss was Statesboro’s inability to control the line of scrimmage. In their three wins, the Devils had dominated the trenches and dictated the game’s pace, but Liberty was able to turn the tables Friday.
“Liberty certainly controlled the lines tonight,” said Pennington. “Getting a big lead early allowed them to be more aggressive on both sides of the ball, and they took advantage to put more pressure on us.”
The struggles continued for Statesboro in the second half. Desbiens capped a long drive with an 11 yard strike to Sapp to open the second half, and the Panther defense continued to keep the Devils at bay as Liberty chewed clock the rest of the way.
Statesboro didn’t reach Liberty territory until late in the third quarter never advanced inside of the Panthers’ 23 yard line.
The Devils will try to bounce back next week as they travel to Augusta to take on Lakeside, Evans in their first sub-region game of the year.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.