The bye week came at a great time. The Panthers were battered and bruised and honestly, just tired. Tonight the A-Train rolls into Liberty with renewed enthusiasm and for the first time this season, something to play for. Liberty marks the first region game of the season. Kudos to the Panther coaching staff for getting the team prepared to show up week in and week out, playing seven non-conference games. Games that honestly mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. The region games decide playoff seeding, and let’s be honest. The playoffs and the road to the state championship is ultimate goal every season. Lets look at Liberty, the third set of Red Devils that the Panthers will face this season.
Liberty Head Coach Kyle Stewart has the Red Devils sitting at 5-2 on the season. Like most teams these days they will run a balanced spread offense. Balanced, meaning they will run out of the spread, and try to throw using play action. That is, if the run is working for them. But offense isn’t what Coach Stewart hangs his hat on. The Red Devils have used a stingy defense over the last couple of seasons to impose their will on their opponents. Liberty averages 27.2 points per game offensively, while giving up 12.8 points per game on defense. Last season, that defense led them to a quarter finals appearance versus Saluda. Who ultimately won, and faced Abbeville in the Upper State Championship game. Can the Red Devils slow down the speedy A-Town offense? That’s a tall task.
Liberty got some help slowing down the Panthers, by way of Hartsville. Sounds weird I know, but hang with me here. In the Hartsville game, the Panthers leading rusher Courtney Jackson (43car-525yds-9tds-12.2ypc) left the game after just one carry. He was examined on the sideline. Jogged up and down the sideline a few times and went back in the game briefly before coming right back out. What we didn’t know then, is that Jackson had suffered a season ending knee injury that will require surgery. That’s a tough break for a really outstanding football player and an even better kid. Best of wishes and a quick recovery for #22. So, what now? Well, to say that the cupboard is full of running backs would be an understatement. The Panthers will have a starting backfield that looks like this; The wingbacks will be Junior Rapley (69-498-6-7.22) and Jermaine Blackwell (38-284-4-7.47) and Dominick Washington (45-245-3-5.44) will start in the fullback positon. And of course the Panther quarterback Bryce Jackson (63-503-7-7.98) is a big run threat as well. He’s currently the Panthers leading rusher. The Panthers have had a handful of near misses in the passing game. Literal finger tip misses that could have blown games wide open and padded the passing stats for the season. Even still, Jackson has connected with Dooley Sanders (11 catches 246yds 5tds) on a regular basis. Robin Crawford (16-143-1) and Cruz Temple, who has been moved up from the JV team will bring added depth to the running back position.
Here’s the storyline, or the questions in the air about tonight’s game at Liberty. Did the loss take some pressure off of this Panther team? Did the loss light a fire and create a sense of urgency? Have the Panthers completely flushed the loss vs. Hartsville and moved on? Everything this team wanted to accomplish this season is still in front of them. They have a chance tonight to make a statement and prove that the road to the Region 2 2A championship still squarely runs through Abbeville.
God Bless and Go Panthers!