Blue Flame shut out county rival

Tommy McGaha/Courier

Pickens senior Gunner Covey gets around the end of the Liberty defense for a gain during the Blue Flame’s 30-0 win over the Red Devils on Friday night.

By Eugene Jolley
Courier Sports

PICKENS — It was nearly the perfect storm for Pickens Friday night in a 30-0 home win over county rival Liberty.

The Blue Flame defense forced five turnovers, the offense didn’t turn it over once and the team and fans waited out a near two-hour weather delay to avenge last year’s defeat to the Red Devils.

It was the first win at Pickens for coach John Boggs.

“We threw the ball when we needed to throw it and we ran the ball well,” Boggs said. “Defensively, we get the shutout and I’m not sure of the yardage but I believe their biggest play was in the last series.

“I was very proud of our guys. There were a lot of distraction with the weather and everything else, but I thought they handled it well and came back and did a good job. I was proud of them for being resilient and bouncing back every week. We started out 0-2, and that’s not where we want to be, but the most important one is the next one, and that’s the one we got tonight. I was very proud of these guys.”

The two teams traded punts to open as the defenses came up big. Linebacker Clay Adcox had a four-yard tackle for loss for Pickens, and Aaron Bates had a sack for Liberty.

Pickens then marched 65 yards in 10 plays, mixing pass and run. Gunner Covey had an early 25-yard run, and a Tanner Stegall to Sam Lawson pass covered 11 to the 14. Four plays later, tailback Brandon Batson took a toss right and scored from two yards out with 4:06 left in the first quarter. Matt Gravely’s kick was good, making it 7-0.

Liberty reached the Red Devil 47 when the first lightning strike was spotted at 7:53 p.m. The game didn’t resume until 9:40. The stadium was emptied for safety, and the players went to the locker rooms.

“You don’t even want to know,” Boggs said, laughing about the long delay. “They were stacking cups. You know it’s 30 minutes and then another 30 minutes. You keep having to wait and wait. The biggest thing is you want to keep them off their feet and saving energy. The kids are already wired up and ready to play. (Liberty coach Kyle Stewart) and I were laughing about it.”

The Red Devils, continuing to keep the ball on the ground, reached the Blue Flame 27 after converting on fourth and three. But on first down, Matt Gravely made possibly the biggest play of the game as he made a leaping interception of quarterback Austin Hughey, who was being pressured by Tyler Gravely on the attempt.

As the Blue Flame would do on four of the five turnovers, Pickens converted the miscue into points. Adam Thomas gave Pickens a huge boost, first with a 23-yard catch and run, and then with an 11-yard carry. The drive stalled, and Matt Gravely hit a 38-yard field goal, making it 10-0 with 4:55 left in the half.

The Liberty gifts kept coming three plays later, when a handoff was fumbled and Corbin Hinkle recovered at the Red Devil 32.

A penalty forced Pickens into a second and long, but Stegall found Kirkland Gillespie over the middle and he threaded through four defenders en route to a 47-yard score. Gravely’s kick made it 17-0 with 3:14 left in the half.

“That was big because whenever you have (Gravely) on the field, you have a chance to get points,” Boggs said. “It’s nice to be able to score. I thought the offensive line for the most part did a good job tonight. Our receivers did a good job. Kirkland Gillespie made a nice catch in a backed-up situation. We didn’t get the ball to Isaiah (Ferguson) deep like we wanted to, but he made some big catches. It was a good overall win.”

The second half saw more Liberty presents for Pickens. Three plays into the second half, to Devils lost another fumble, this one recovered by Bryson Capps at the Liberty 29. Eight plays — all runs — later, Stegall snuck it in from a yard out, making it 24-0 with 6:50 left in the third quarter.

The next series was very frustrating for Liberty. The Red Devils were hit with a personal foul on first down, then had a back tackled for a five-yard loss by Ridge Clark and Jerrad Pace. Then, on third and long, Liberty lost another fumble, this one recovered by Renny Croley at the Red Devil 18.

The Devil defense held, and Gravely kicked a 30-yard field goal to make it 27-0 with 4:21 left in the third quarter.

Liberty was held to just 89 yards rushing and again found the going tough, as Croley, Covey and Tyler Gravely ganged up to tackle Cavaugio Butler for a four-yard loss on third down.

Pickens went 65 yards in nine plays for its final score. Stegall hit Ferguson for 15 and Covey for 22 before settling for a 20-yard Gravely kick with 8:23 left.

The Blue Flame got the ball back twice, but one ended on a sack by DeAndre Mansell. The other came in the final two minutes following another fumble, this one recovered by Will Reynolds after a hit by Jamal Blythe on Hughey on a scramble play. Reynolds was ejected following the play for a personal foul and will miss the next game.

Pickens will take this week off before traveling to Wren next Friday to begin region play. Liberty will play host to Walhalla this Friday night.