Liberty County falls to Rutherford 21-14
The Liberty County High School Bulldogs had an unexpected week off when the game with the Dixie County High School Bears was canceled due to Hurricane Hermine. The unplanned bye week gave the Dawgs some extra time to heal some bumps and bruises, and get in some extra work in preparation for last Friday’s contest with the Rutherford High School Rams. The Rams compete in class 4A, which is the classification for schools with 681-1,114 students, and this early season challenge will no doubt help to season the Bulldogs for upcoming district games.
The crowd was still filtering in when the Dawgs sent the opening kickoff to the visiting Rams. After yielding two first downs, the LCHS defense stiffened and forced the Rams to punt. The Rams downed the punt at the LCHS 6 yard line, and the Dawgs had their backs against the wall on their first offensive possession. After a nice first down run by #7 J.J. House, the Dawgs coughed up the ball on the next play, and the Rams took over at the Liberty 13-yard line. The Bulldogs defense held for three plays, bringing up fourth down for the Rams. The Rams quarterback faked a handoff and rolled to his left, looking for a receiver in the corner of the end zone, but the Bulldog secondary had the receiver covered like a blanket. At the last moment, before he was about to be hit by several Bulldog pass rushers, the Ram quarterback threw a sidearm pass against the grain to the fullback, who looked as surprised to catch the ball as everyone else in the stadium, but still managed to stumble into the end zone for the Ram touchdown. The Dawgs blocked the extra point attempt, and the score was 6-0 Rutherford.
On their next possession, the Dawgs got a well-blocked 23- yard run from House, but could not capitalize, and had to punt the ball back to the Rams. The defenses controlled the next several series, and it looked as if the Dawgs were headed into the halftime locker room down a touchdown. However, on their last drive of the half, the Bulldogs took possession at their own 26-yard line, and #16 Alex Gonzalez started things off with a first down run on a quarterback keeper. The next play brought everyone to their feet when #5 Chris Williams motioned to the left, took the wide pitch from Gonzalez, knifed through the big hole opened up by the offensive line, and bolted 60 yards down the sideline for the LCHS touchdown. The extra point was no good, and the score at half time was 6-6.
The home crowd was treated to a great performance by the LCHS Band, the Sound of Liberty. Led by Drum Major Dakota Goff, the band performed the Queen songs “We Will Rock You,” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” The halftime show, by itself, was worth the price of admission.
The teams traded several possessions before the Dawgs downed a punt deep in Ram territory. On the next play, the Rams muffed a handoff, and the Dawg defense swarmed in, tackling the Rutherford ball carrier in the end zone for a safety. Williams fielded the free kick off the bounce, returned the ball across midfield, and the Dawgs started their drive with their best field position of the night. After several quality runs by Williams and House, Gonzalez struck pay dirt on a quarterback keeper. The extra point was no good and the Bulldogs lead stood at 14-6.
If the Dawg defense could have managed to stop the Ram offense on the next drive, the home team may have been able to put the game away. But the Rams showed their mental toughness by putting together a methodical drive that included two fourth down conversions, and was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by their senior running back, Isaiah Sampson. After the two point conversion, the score was knotted at 14-14.
Neither offense gained any ground on the next two possessions, and Rutherford lined up to punt with 1:55 left in the game. House came flying off the far hashmark and partially blocked the Ram punt, which was then picked up by a Rutherford player who attempted to run the ball up the field. The ball should have been blown dead at the spot the opposing player touched the ball, but in the prevailing confusion, the referees spotted the ball about ten yards closer to the Bulldogs end zone than it should have been.
The Bulldogs could not manage a first down, so the punt team took the field on fourth down with 40 seconds left to play. The Bulldog punt had good distance, but drifted to the far side of the field as it sailed through the air. The result was that the Ram punt returner fielded the punt outside of the containment of the Bulldog coverage team, and raced 78-yards for the Rams’ go-ahead touchdown. The Bulldogs made a valiant effort in the remaining 20 seconds, with Gonzalez managing to complete a long pass to a diving Hunter Sutler at the Ram 20 yard line as time expired, but it proved to be too little too late as the final score was Rutherford 21, Liberty County 14.
After the game, Coach Grantham was pleased with the improved effort he saw from the team, noting that House and Blake Tharpe had their best defensive games of the season, and that the offense was one block away from breaking some long runs on several plays. The players are starting to realize what it takes to be successful, said Coach Grantham, and how important consistency of execution is in making the game plan work.
The Bulldogs are hosting the Franklin County High School Seahawks Friday in the first district game of the year for both teams. With a four-team district, and the top two teams making the playoffs, the competition is definitely going to be intense from here on out. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.