Red Devils to open playoffs vs. Central

By Jimmy Kirby
Courier Sports

LIBERTY — The Liberty High School Red Devils will begin the first round of the playoffs at home squaring off against Central High School.

This will be the second meeting between the two teams, as they last met in the second round of the 2011 Class 2A playoffs. 11-16 Page 1B.inddCentral handled the Red Devils in a 29-7 win and went on to play in the state title game, finishing as runner up that season to Bishop-England in a 10-0 loss.

The Red Devils are making their first playoff appearance since 2012, when they lost in the first round to Ninety Six 42-20 to cap a 5-6 season.

Central is a team that is deep in tradition and widely successful in football. Coach Craig Hatcher has the Eagles 7-3 this season heading into the playoffs. Since a three-year streak that saw the Eagles win a state title in 2010 and finish as runners-up in 2009 and 2011, they have been down a bit the past three seasons. They finished 6-4 in 2014, 6-5 in 2015 and currently stand 7-3 this season.

Hatcher has a four-year record of 27-16 heading into Friday night’s contest. The Eagles ended the regular season with a 34-32-comeback win over Lee Central to finish in third place in Region IV-2A.

They lost to Cheraw 27-6 and Andrew Jackson 20-13 in going 4-2 in region play. They beat Lee Central, Buford, Chesterfield and North Central in region play.

11-16 Page 1B.inddIn preparing for the Eagles this week, Liberty coach Kyle Stewart said his team would have to be mentally ready to face their wishbone attack.

“We have to play assignment football and properly execute our reads,” Stewart said.

The Red Devil defense has been a key to the team’s success this season. They have come into each game prepared to handle the run or the pass. The only exception was against Crescent, when the Red Devils had a hard time reading the read-option attack.

Doug Tate/Photo Liberty’s Kevon Tabron tries to get by a Southside Christian defender during their game Nov. 4.

Coming off a huge 17-tackle game against Southside Christian, Liberty senior Aaron Bates will be a key in heading up the Liberty defense to stop the Eagle rushing attack.

Cole Murphy, Ethan Harris, Jacob Herman, Austin Miller, Seth Dover, Jack Brissey, Kevon Tabron and Zane Boozer have been the leading tacklers along with Bates. They will all need to have a big game against Central.

The Red Devil defense has given up 20.8 points per game this season, while the Liberty offense is almost a point better at 21.7 scoring per game.

Kevon Wall will be at quarterback to lead the wishbone attack for the Eagles. He will have Jamiah Smith and Devonte Robinson in the backfield to get most of the rushing yardage for the Eagles.

11-16 Page 1B.inddWhile Wall engineers the rushing attack for the Eagles, he is not scared to put the ball up in the air when needed. The Eagles won 34-32 on Wall’s 13-yard pass to Jay’Qua Clyburn with only 43 seconds remaining in the game for the comeback win over Lee Central to end the regular season.

Brandy Karr/Photo  Liberty’s Shaun Karr carries the ball during the Red Devils’ regular-season finale against Southside Christian on Nov. 4.

Stewart and his squad have been getting healthy during the week off in preparation for the first-round playoff game. Getting quarterback Nick Reeves back in the groove following his shoulder injury in the Abbeville game will be a key for the Red Devils. Reeves finished the season with 742 passing yards on a 58-of-120 passing clip. He also had seven interceptions and will need to make wise decisions against Central for the Red Devils to be effective.

Combined with 201 yards passing from Austin Huey, who is out for the season with a knee injury suffered in the Abbeville game, the Red Devils ended the season with 1,040 yards passing combined from five different quarterbacks or running backs who threw the ball.

That is a huge gain in comparison to the 2015 season, when the Red Devils managed only 202 yards passing.

Michael Spruill and Kevon Tabron have been the leading receivers for Reeves, with 21 catches each. They have 362 yards and 342 yards receiving, respectively. Murphy has hauled in 12 catches for 177 yards for the Red Devils.

Cavaugio Butler has been the leading ground gainer for the Red Devils this season, with 512 yards rushing. Tabron is second with 395 yards on 86 attempts.

11-16 Page 1B.inddLiberty will have to play smart offensively to keep the Eagle defense off-balance. The Red Devils will need to have a decent ground attack like they have shown all season — nothing flashy, but more methodical to move the chains and continue moving the football. Add some key passing by Reeves, who has to be on his game. Reeves has overthrown timing routes and out patterns at times this season while hurried in the pocket.

“This game will be about execution,” Stewart said. “It will be a huge opportunity for us to gain some momentum.”

If the Red Devils can gain a home win this week, they stand a chance to play a second-round game at home depending the outcome of the Blacksburg-Keenan game at Blacksburg.

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