Defense keys Liberty win over Razorbacks

By Jimmy Kirby
Courier Sports

WALHALLA — Good things continue to happen for the Liberty High Red Devils at the start of the 2016 season.

For the second consecutive week on the road to start the season, the Red Devils came away with another thrilling victory on Friday night, this time a 21-17 win over the Walhalla Razorbacks.

8-31 Page 1B.inddThere was a large crowd with plenty of energy and noise for the home opener, which marked Liberty’s first visit to the new Walhalla High School, which opened last year. Not only were the Red Devils trying to dampen the spirits of the home crowd, but the weather also gave an assist when a terrible thunderstorm with severe lightning delayed the last 3:44 of the fourth quarter for nearly two hours. The delay helped take the excitement out of the Razorback offense on their last-gasp drive in an effort to take the lead early on Saturday morning and move to 2-0 under new head coach Padgett Johnson. The game ended at 12:16 a.m.

The Red Devils made it more of a game than they needed to by losing three fumbles and committing several untimely penalties in the game. They were on their way to a dominant first half ahead 14-0, but allowed the Razorbacks back in the game as Walhalla scored on a five-yard pass from Corey Donald to Aaron Seigle as time expired on the first half.

The Razorbacks went 80 yards in 13 plays. Donald completed passes good for 17 and 15 yards on the drive, along with a 10-yard run. There were also 25 yards in penalties on the Red Devils on the drive to aid the 8-31 Page 1B.inddRazorbacks.

The Liberty offense looked much more crisp Friday night than it did the previous week against Pendleton. The Devils almost tripled their offensive output, with a total of 291 yards of total offense against the Razorbacks. In the opener, they managed only 100 yards against the Bulldogs.

“We have some major errors that we need to correct,” Liberty coach Kyle Stewart said after the game. “We have got to get better with ball security for one. Penalties also cost us in some key times of the game.”

Cavaugio Butler had a big night for the Red Devils, as he gained 118 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns. He scored on runs of three and 25 yards. The second touchdown run regained the lead for the Red Devils after Walhalla had taken its first lead of the game at 17-14 early in the fourth quarter on Donald’s second touchdown pass of the game, a 10-yarder again to Seigle.

Perhaps no play was bigger in the game than a third-quarter stop by sophomore defensive back Jeremy Cason, who chased down Razorback running back Adrian Massey at the Liberty 4-yard line following a 45-yard run. The Red Devil defense then regrouped and held Walhalla out of the end zone, as the Razors settled for a 27-yard Patrick Nations field goal to make the score 14-10 with 2:02 remaining in the third quarter.

The Red Devils fumbled on their ensuing drive and turned the ball back over to the Razorbacks at their own 35-yard line. Six plays later, they were in the end zone on the Donald pass to Seigle and had their first and only lead of the game.

The Red Devils came right back and showed that they could move the ball and come back after giving up the lead. Kevon Tebron rushed for 18 yards to the Liberty 38-yard line. He then added 11 more yards on a pass reception from Nick Reeves to the Red Devil 49-yard line, and then another 18-yard gain on the next play to get the ball inside Razorback territory at the 33-yard line. Butler scored four plays later to put the Red Devils up for good 21-17 with 8:12 remaining in the game.

From there it was up to the Liberty defense to make a statement. The weather delay made it interesting for both teams. For Walhalla, it took the crowd out of it, and for the Red Devils, the question was how they would handle the waiting game.

“I was also proud of how we played coming out of the delay,” Stewart said. “I was a little worried as I watched our guys sit for nearly two hours, and it was getting pretty late. They were tired, but they put all that aside and came out for a big defensive stand that secured the game.”

In the second quarter, the Red Devils extended their lead to 14-0 on a nice pass by Nick Reeves8-31 Page 1B.indd to Michael Spruill in the back of the end zone for 11 yards. Spruill is becoming Reeves’ go-to receiver, as he finished the night with three catches for 47 yards and the score.

Reeves had an efficient night throwing the football, as he was 6-of-9 for 79 yards. He had no interceptions and was only sacked once in the game. Cole Murphy caught two passes for 21 yards to aid the passing attack.

“I thought effort was there,” Stewart said. “Bottom line is we have to execute better. We can’t go backwards. I was proud of how the team responded after going down 17-14. We were able to put a drive together to regain the lead.”

The Red Devils now return home for the first time this season as they take on an 0-2 Pickens Blue Flame team that is looking for a win after falling 31-10 at Pendleton last week.