Devils strike early, hold on vs. Pickens

By Jimmy Kirby
Courier Sports

LIBERTY — The Liberty Red Devils are now 3-0 on the season after jumping out to a 17-0 lead on Pickens midway through the second quarter and holding on to defeat the Blue Flame 24-14 on Friday night.

In stark contrast, Pickens fell to 0-3 to start the season with the loss.

“The lead to start the game was big,” Liberty coach Kyle Stewart said. “It got the crowd into it and allowed us to focus on winning the second half at the break.”

Stewart is proud of how his team has gotten to 3-0 so far this season.

“It feels good to be undefeated, but the credit should go to the players for how hard they have worked and 9-7 Page 1B.inddmy assistant coaches for the preparation they have done to have our team ready to play,” he said.

Despite Liberty’s early lead, the Blue Flame got back in the game quickly in the second quarter on two big plays to set up scores.

Tanner Stegall found Daniel Hooper down the right sideline on a busted coverage for 56 yards to the Red Devil 1-yard line to set up a one-yard Bryson Capps score on the next play to cut the lead to 17-7 with 3:19 remaining in the second quarter.

The next big play halted a Red Devil drive deep in Blue Flame territory at the 15-yard line, as Jamal Blythe stepped in front of a Nick Reeves pass and returned it 50 yards to the Liberty 35-yard line.

Stewart said the pass by Reeves was a good read and a good call.

“The pass should have been on a rope, but instead he floated it a little and the defender made a play,” Stewart said.

The Blue Flame were stopped on a fourth-down run at the Liberty 27-yard line, but caught a huge break as Capps fumbled on the play. Fortune was on their side as Stegall scooped up the loose ball at the Liberty 31-yard line and gained eight yards for a first down to the Red Devil 23-yard line. Kyle Day then had a huge gain to the Red Devil 7-yard line, and Stegall found Cole Stewart as t9-7 Page 1B.inddime expired to end the first half and narrow the Red Devil lead to 17-14.

It was the second week in a row that Liberty allowed a touchdown on the last play of the first half.

“We just need to focus on doing our jobs,” Stewart said. “In both situations, I believe we were a little tired and then had mental breakdowns.”

Liberty came out in the third quarter on a positive note. The Red Devils drove straight down the field for a score to extend the lead to 24-14. Kevon Tabron slashed through the Pickens defense for the 20-yard touchdown run.

The Red Devils had excellent field position to start the drive when the Blue Flame were called for a personal foul facemask on the kickoff. The drive started in Pickens territory at the Blue Flame 42-yard line.

Stewart said the drive to start the third quarter was a major key in the momentum of the game.

“It made it a two-score game, so it was big,” he said. “Also, it was a response to the momentum they gained before the half. It set us up to be able to milk the clock on later possessions in the second half.”

Neither team seriously threatened to score again. The Blue Flame moved down to the Red Devil 25-yard line in the fourth quarter, but a hit by Aaron Bates on Stegall forced a fumble that was recovered by Red Devil Jacob Rogers at the Liberty 22-yard line to end the drive.

The Red Devil defense held stiff the rest of the game and shut out the Blue Flame in the second half. They held the Blue Flame to 225 total yards in the game. Take away a busted coverage on the 50-yard bomb, and the Blue Flame may have finished with less than 200 yards of total offense in the game.

Meanwhile, the Liberty offense continues to improve week by week. The Devils had 197 yards rushing in the game and enough timely passing by Nick Reeves to finish the game with 74 passing yards on a 7-of-14 night, with two interceptions.

Austin Huey led the Red Devils in rushing with 51 yards on six carries. Cavaugio Butler had 489-7 Page 1B.indd yards on 12 carries, and was followed by Clay Lollis with 40 yards. Tabron added 34 yards to add to the jumble of yards by the four backs.

Stewart said spreading the wealth has been important to the team’s success in offensive production.

“My first season (in 2011, when the Devils finished 9-3) we didn’t have a rusher with more than 800 yards on the season, but we had close to 2,500 yards as a team if I remember correctly,” he said.

Stewart said the Liberty defense is doing a great job.

“They have peaked in the second half of games, which has been huge,” he said. “I believe players are starting to trust that we are going to make calls to put them in the right position to be successful.”

Cole Murphy, Aaron Bates, Jacob Herman, Ethan Harris and Seth Dover led the Red Devil defense to shut down the Blue Flame in the second half. They had a total of nine tackles for loss in the game to go with five sacks.

The Red Devils got on the board first when Dusty Owens sacked Stegall for a two-yard loss that resulted in a safety and a 2-0 lead. The Blue Flame were backed up on a 54-yard Austin Huey punt.

The Red Devils took the ensuing kickoff and drove 41 yards in seven plays. Butler scored from a yard out to make it 8-0. He had a 21-yard run to set up his score. Reeves found Dover on the two-point pass for a quick 10-0 lead.

Lollis scored on a six-yard run with 6:37 remaining in the second quarter to extend the Red Devil lead to 17-0. A Reeves pass to Tabron good for 31 yards was a key play on the drive.

The Red Devils will stay at home this week to face the Blue Ridge Tigers. This will be the second week that Liberty will face a 4A classification school. They now have their three wins over two 3A schools and one 4A.

The last time Liberty and Blue Ridge met was 2003, when the Devils defeated the Tigers 21-7. In 2002, the teams played twice — once in the regular season and once in the playoffs. Blue Ridge won both games that season, a 20-0 regular-season meeting and a 34-13 game in the first round of the playoffs. The two teams have played 30 times dating back to 1967.

Blue Ridge enters the contest with a 1-2 record. The Tigers opened the season with a 41-0 loss to Belton-Honea Path. They also defeated Landrum 29-3 and lost to Riverside 47-36.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday night.