Red Devils out of balance for 2015

By Jimmy Kirby
Courier Sports

LIBERTY — The 2015 Liberty football season was faced with a major challenge before it ever began.

While little was said during the offseason, over the summer and during fall camp the Red Devils were faced with a dilemma. They were forced to start the season with a quarterback who had never played a down of varsity football.

Brandy Karr/Photo Liberty’s Tyler Renaud carries the ball during the Devils’ season-ending win over Carolina on Oct. 30. Renaud led Liberty with 741 yards on the ground in 2015.

Brandy Karr/Photo
Liberty’s Tyler Renaud carries the ball during the Devils’ season-ending win over Carolina on Oct. 30. Renaud led Liberty with 741 yards on the ground in 2015.

Now a team who depended on the run so much was faced with the task of developing a quarterback who could throw effectively when needed.

Rising senior Tyler Burgess decided not to return to football. Burgess had started as a freshman and was a three-year starter for Liberty. The heir apparent was Nick Reeves, but an injury during summer camp at North Greenville knocked him out of action to start the season. Reeves played in just seven games and had to work himself into shape as the season progressed.

Austin Hughey stepped into the starting role and gained valuable experience as each game passed, but he also missed a couple of games due to concussion protocol.

Simply put, the Red Devils were never able to maintain consistency and be effective through the air, as Liberty passed for only 209 yards through the entire season. Reeves was 16-for-50 with seven interceptions, 121 yards and no touchdowns. Hughey was 9-for-33 with five interceptions and 88 yards. Hughey had one touchdown pass on the season.

The Red Devils gained 1,803 yards on the ground and averaged four yards per carry. Tyler Renaud led the Red Devils with 741 yards rushing on 140 carries. He averaged 74.1 yards per game to lead the Red Devil rushing attack. Eddy Mathis was limited to just 420 yards while battling ankle issues that limited his effectiveness. His longest run of the season went for 76 yards.

The Devils’ first game of the season against Crescent gave a hint that the offense was out of balance. Liberty managed just 34 yards passing on a 2-for-7 night and was held without a touchdown in a 6-3 overtime loss. The Devils also failed to score a touchdown in game two in a 30-0 rain-delayed game against Pickens.

It’s hard to win games averaging a mere 13.4 points per game, and the Red Devils had five games in which they scored seven points or less, including the two regulation shutouts. They scored 21 points in three games, losing two and shutting out Walhalla in a 21-0 win, their first victory of the season. Liberty scored 37 against Carolina in the season finale, but 23 of those points were scored by the defense or special teams.

The defense, on the other hand, had a lot of pressure put on it. The Devils did a respectful job in allowing just 21.3 points per game. They held opponents to 106.6 yards per game rushing the ball. They allowed 1,698 passing yards and 17 touchdown passes.

Aaron Bates was the leader in tackles by a wide margin, with a total of 70. He also had 11 tackles for loss and two sacks. Cole Murphy led the defense with 12 tackles for loss and was second in tackles with 41. Murphy also had three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He was the defensive player of the game against Carolina, with a 10-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 90-yard fumble return for a touchdown. He also returned a kickoff 57 yards for a touchdown in the same game.

Another defensive leader for Liberty was Jacob Herman with 37 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Gatlin Bell added 30 tackles and one sack. Brayden Shirley had 29 tackles and 3.5 for loss. Kevin Tabron had 28 tackles and three tackles for loss. Ethan Harris and Deandre Mansell both recorded 25 tackles. Mansell was fourth on the team in tackles for loss with 6.5 and led the team in sacks with four.

Chesnee and Woodruff were the only teams to really give the Red Devil defense fits through the air. The Red devils gave up 309 yards to Chesnee and 374 yards to Woodruff.

The most rushing yards allowed by the Red Devils in any game was 209 against Powdersville. The Patriots also gained 211 yards through the air against the Red Devils, embodying the balance on offense that Liberty was never able to achieve.

Red Devils coach Kyle Stewart was proud of his team for the effort they displayed each week.

“We will continue to develop our young men and work to get better on both sides of the ball,” Stewart said. “We have a lot to work on during the offseason and expect to be better next year.”

Right now the new realignment has some major changes to the region for the Red Devils. With the addition of a AAAAA division, the Red Devils will stay in AA for the 2016 season.

The only teams playing football in the new region besides the Red Devils will be Abbeville, Ninety Six and Southside Christian. Greenville Tech Charter and Brashier Middle College will also be added to the region, but those schools do not field football teams.

It is yet to be seen how many region games will be played or required for the 2016 season. It will certainly be a different look — a huge difference from seven region games to possibly three region games.

It seems the region will be out of balance as much as the Red Devils were in 2015. Hopefully both will find a way to balance out once the new season gets here.