HINESVILLE — South Effingham’s fears over Liberty County’s speed proved to be well-founded.
Roderick Jones ran for four touchdowns and a school-record 260 yards, and the Panthers ended the Mustangs’ dreams of another Class AAA state football playoff appearance with a 50-24 victory Friday night Olvey Field.
“We finally played a game,” Panthers coach Kirk Warner said. “We’re one of the best teams in the region, and we’re not going to the playoffs. Ever since I’ve been here, it’s come down to this game, and this is the first time we’ve sent them packing.”
The loss ended the Mustangs’ season at 6-4 overall and 2-3 in Region 3-AAA (A), but the final game started off well for South Effingham. The Mustangs scored on their first two possessions, opening with Gage Marks’ 2-yard touchdown run, and led 9-0.
But Jones’ 42-yard gain sparked Liberty’s first scoring drive, and Byron Calahan scored from 10 yards out to cut the gap to 9-7.
Another Chris Zittrouer field goal made it 12-7, but after Julian Stokes scored on a sneak with 1:13 to go in the half, Jones took a pitch and shot down the right sidelines for a 55-yard TD jaunt with one second left in the half.
“It took the wind out of us,” Mustangs coach Greg Manior said. “If we stop that touchdown, we feel we’ve got the momentum going. Liberty was ready to play, and they have a lot of speed. We had to fight from behind and couldn’t make it up.”
After being held to minus-15 yards on their first two possessions, the Panthers ended up with 200 yards of offense in the first half. Meanwhile, the Mustangs managed just 4 total yards on their last three possession of the half.
“After the first 12 minutes, I felt pretty good,” Manior said. “We started to get our momentum going. Then they started putting nine or 10 in the box and had too much speed when we tried to run outside. They had a good game plan for us.”
Jeff Hamilton’s 24-yard touchdown strike to Waylon Parrish cut the lead to 24-18 with 5:48 to go. But Jones and the Panthers turned it on from there.
Jones tacked on touchdown runs of 56 and 47 yards around Kendrick Jones’ recovery of a fumble in the endzone as Dimitri Lane sacked Hamilton.
“We saw him on film and we knew he was pretty fast,” Manior said of Roderick Jones. “Once he got outside, he was too quick.”
Jones also threw a 43-yard halfback option pass to set up Edward Chipple's field goal early in the fourth quarter.
“We still don’t think he’s a tailback,” Warner said of his junior star. “But if he comes back and works hard, he can be a 2,000-yard rusher.”
South Effingham had one last gasp when Frank Manker took Hamilton’s short pass and dashed 58 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. But Michael Rodriguez added the final tally, a 13-yard run, in the final minute.
South Effingham needed a win over Liberty (7-3, 3-2) and for Burke County to beat Benedictine — which it did — to make the playoffs. Liberty’s 35-7 loss to Benedictine the week before knocked the Panthers out of contention, and it also set them back on the heels for the start of Friday night’s game.
“We’ve been, including me, sleepwalking through this week,” Warner said. “I pulled them to the sidelines and told the seniors they are not going to remember the BC game 10 years from now. They are going to remember the last game they ever played.”
Liberty finished with 423 yards of offense, with 379 yards rushing. South Effingham had 256 yards, as Hamilton was 4-of-15 passing for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Gage Marks had 96 yards on 19 carries.