Devils top Ninety Six with pair of late TDs

Doug Tate/Photo
Liberty’s Cole Murphy tries to avoid a Ninety Six tackler during their game Friday night.

By Jimmy Kirby
Courier Sports

LIBERTY — The Liberty Red Devils returned home following a three-week road trip and doubled up the Ninety Six Wildcats with a 28-14 homecoming win last Friday.

The Red Devils turned the ball over four times in the game and the Wildcats capitalized on two of the fumbles to score twice to make the game close. The Red Devil defense provided a stellar effort in limiting the Wildcats to just 128 total offensive yards in the game to help secure the win and even the Red Devils’ Region II-2A mark at 1-1 on the season with one remaining home game this Friday night against Southside Christian.

10-26 Page 1B.inddLiberty was not able to put the game away until 34 seconds remained in the game. Facing third down and four at the Wildcat 10-yard line, Nick Reeves faked a handoff to the right side of the line and bootlegged back to the left, finding a wide-open Seth Dover for the 10-yard scoring toss that made it 28-14. The Red Devils had their breathing room with just seconds remaining in the game.

Both NinetySix scores came on short-field drives following Red Devil fumbles. The Wildcats’ first score came following a Clay Lollis fumble at the Liberty 37-yard line. From there, the Wildcats took six plays to score as Justin Alford scored from eight yards out to knot the game at 7-7.

The Wildcats’ second score came on a fumble return for a touchdown. Kevon Tabron fumbled the ball on the exchange, and Jay Brown picked up the loose ball at the Liberty 36-yard line and raced untouched for the tying touchdown to make it 14-14 with 7:09 remaining in the third quarter.

Liberty scored the initial touchdown in the game on the first play of the second quarter when Cole Murphy took the toss from Tabron out of the backfield. Expecting Murphy to run, the Wildcat safeties moved toward the line, opening Murphy up to loft a pass to a wide-open Michael Spruill for a 43-yard score.

Liberty then turned the table on a last-second score to end the first half when Reeves found Colton Leroy in the left corner of the end zone from 17 yards out with just 15 seconds left until the completion of the first half.

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Doug Tate/Photo
Liberty’s Ethan Harris, right, and Aaron Bates combine to stop a Ninety Six ballcarrier during their game Friday night.

Dusty Owens got his hands up to bat an Alford pass attempt at the line of scrimmage, and a hustling Seth Dover came up with the interception at the Ninety Six 17-yard line with 4:41 to go in the fourth quarter. The Red Devils took the lead for good three plays later when Tabron scored from six yards out. Reeves had a nice 10-yard run to give the Red Devils a first and goal at the 6-yard line on the previous play.

“I am very proud of our effort tonight,” Liberty coach Kyle Stewart said after the game. “The guys realized the importance of this game in the playoff picture, and that showed this week in practice.”

The Red Devil offense ended the game with 249 yards of total offense. It was a tough week of practice not knowing until gametime if Reeves would be able to go in the game or if the Red Devils would be starting a backup quarterback for the first time. It wasn’t a great offensive game by the Red Devils, but they got the job done even with the four turnovers. Tabron led all rushers with 82 yards on 18 carries.

It was a much closer game than the score indicated, as it appeared the game was destined for overtime late in the fourth quarter. Turnovers proved to be a key for both teams.

“Defense continues to play well,” Stewart said. “They really stepped up tonight to keep Ninety Six out of the end zone after some offensive turnovers. It was big to come out the second half and pitch a shutout.”

10-26 Page 1B.inddThe Red Devil defense did indeed pitch a shutout in the second half, as the Wildcats scored on a defensive touchdown on the fumble return. The Liberty defense held the Ninety Six offense to just 43 total yards in the second half.

“Offensively, the turnovers continue to be our nemesis,” Stewart said. “Luckily they didn’t cost us the game this week. We have continuously addressed this and spent extra time on mesh drills to get rid of them. We will really focus on this this week.”

Jacob Herman and Aaron Bates led the Liberty defense with 10 and 9 tackles respectively.

The Red Devils’ game this week has been pushed back one week due to hurricane Matthew, which cancelled games from Columbia all the way to the coast. The South Carolina High School League delayed the start of the playoffs two weeks to allow teams to complete their regular season. Both Liberty and Southside Christian felt it would be better to have one week off prior to the playoffs than two weeks without playing a game.

“We have another bye week coming up due to extra time being put on the end of the season for lower state teams,” Stewart said. “Hopefully we can heal up and focus on a couple of critical areas. Our final regular-season game is a big one for us. We have to win to host a home playoff game.”

Southside Christian enters the game with a 5-4 overal record and an 0-2 mark in region play. The Sabres opened the season with five consecutive wins, but they have lost their last four games, with losses to Charlotte Latin, Blacksburg, Ninety Six and Abbeville. The most points they gave up during the five-game winning streak was 12 points. It also included three shutouts.

During the four-game losing streak, Southside Christian has given up 35, 38, 35 and 42 points. Southside Christian is the reigning Class 1A, Division 1 state champion, but moved up to Class 2A in the South Carolina High School League’s 2016 realignment.