Red Devils blanked in loss at Abbeville

By Jimmy Kirby
Courier Sports

ABBEVILLE — A glance at the final score shows a similar outcome to past games between Liberty and Abbeville — a blowout win for the Panthers.

Abbeville rolled to a 31-0 victory to open region play for both teams on Friday night, but it was a hard-fought game that got out of hand thanks to costly injuries for the visitors.

10-19 Page 1B.indd“I do not think the score showed how hard we got after it,” Liberty coach Kyle Stewart said after the game.

The Red Devil defense played hard for the entire game.

The game was scoreless following the first quarter as both defenses looked sharp. The Red Devils stopped the Panthers on their first drive at the Liberty 30-yard line, as Kevon Tabron stopped T.J. Rogers for no gain on fourth and one.

Michael Spruill intercepted a Jamie Gray pass in the end zone on the next Panther drive to keep points off the board.

The big play for the Panther defense was a Don Don Jackson sack of Nick Reeves back at the Liberty 9-yard line. Reeves was scrambling away from pressure and turned right into Jackson, whose full force landed on Reeves’ left shoulder. The senior was finished for the night, and there’s concern for when he will be ready to play next.

The Panthers finally got into the end zone as the teams opened play in the second quarter. Rogers scored from three yards out to make it 7-0 in favor of the Panthers with 10:23 remaining in the second quarter.

10-19 Page 1B.inddBrandy Karr/Photo
Liberty senior Jacob Herman brings down an Abbeville ballcarrier during their game Friday night.

The Red Devils then started with good field position following the kickoff when Cole Murphy returned the kickoff 11 yards to the Liberty 45-yard line.

The Red Devils moved down to the Abbeville 39-yard line, but on third down, Austin Huey was sacked by the Panther defense and twisted his knee, forcing a second Liberty quarterback out of the game. Austin Kemp then backed the Panthers back up at their own 1-yard line with a nice 44 yard punt.

The next play was the turning point of the game, as Jamie Blackwell broke through the middle of the stacked Red Devil defense and was off to the races, going 99 yards for a 14-0 lead.

While the Red Devil defense continued to play hard, the huge run appeared to break their spirit. The Red Devils were down by two touchdowns and had lost both of their quarterbacks with varsity experience. They also had a grand total of negative-13 yards of offense to show for their effort at that point.

10-19 Page 1B.inddAbbeville extended its lead to 21-0 on a 34-yard Gray touchdown pass to Bryce Johnson with only 31 seconds remaining until halftime. It was the third game of the season that the Red Devils ended the half allowing a score. This one closed the door on the game, as the Red Devils were just looking to find a quarterback and move the ball with any consistency.

Stewart started the second half with Tabron at quarterback, trying to establish a running game. He also inserted Kemp for his first varsity action. Kemp finished 3-for-11 passing with one interception and 44 yards. Kemp also took over the punting duties, with five boots for a 36 yard average.

Abbeville added a third-quarter field goal by Dylan Buford from 24 yards out and a fourth-quarter touchdown run of 45 yards by Malik Leach.

The Red Devils finished the game with 65 yards of total offense. For a time it appeared they would remain in negative yardage, but they slowly began to move the ball with Kemp and Tabron at the helm.

“I was really proud of how hard our guys played,” Stewart said.

The Panthers finished the night with 368 yards rushing and 70 yards passing. Blackwell led all rushers with 190 yards, including the 99-yard touchdown run.

Aaron Bates and Murphy led the way for the Red Devil defense with 11 tackles each. Both had three tackles for loss. Jacob Herman ended up with seven tackles, while Ethan Harris finished with six tackles.

10-19 Page 1B.indd“As if Abbeville wasn’t tough enough, we had to ask guys to play out of position due to injuries,” Stewart said. “We are hoping for a speedy recovery for several of our guys. A few of the injuries are a bit more serious, and we will be waiting on test results.

Brandy Karr/Photo   –  Liberty’s Cavaugio Butler battles to try to get a first down during the Devils’ loss at Abbeville on Friday night.

“Mistakes were made, and we realize that. Guys were excited after the game to get them corrected.”

The Red Devils will now return home for the last two games of the season. They will face Ninety Six this Friday night and then close out the regular season against Southside Christian.

“It will be another big test this week, but we are excited to play at home,” Stewart said. “It has been a month since we turned on the lights at Red Devil Stadium on a Friday. It is homecoming week, and that provides distractions. We will have to be extra focused in our preparations this week.”

The next two games are important for seeding for the playoffs to determine a home game or to travel for the first round of the playoffs.

The more important key will be to find out if Reeves or Huey will return from injury to see another game. Not many teams prepare their third-team quarterback to take the bulk of the snaps in game action, but it seems that is the likely choice for Stewart and the Red Devils.