By Ken Jackson
Liberty’s first key to winning its season-opener Friday at home against South Lake is to get off to a fast start.
In other words, copy the first half of the Kickoff Classic last week against Palatka.
If it does, Coach Brandon Pennington stands a chance of starting his official head coaching tenure 1-0.
The Chargers romped out to a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter Friday and cruised to a 45-14 win Friday in what Pennington called “a pretty good game for us,” on both sides of the ball.
The defense held Palatka to minus-39 yards rushing and just 42 yards overall — it got 45 yards on a third-quarter scoring play — while totalling 13 tackles for loss.
Liberty ran the ball effectively, with Donavin Johnson leading the way with 142 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Ja’Randy Swint (7-49) and quarterback Jaelen Ray (8-80) also ran for touchdowns. Ray was 5-of-7 passing for 72 yards and pitched TD passes to La’Randy Swint, Lamar Patterson and Elijah Stefanici.
“We had very few negative plays,” Pennington said. “On defense we went hard against the run. We have a few tweaks we’ll make in pass coverage this week, but it was a good start. I had Jaelen out of the game in the fourth quarter and he was on the sideline with me and he said it was the biggest crowd he’d played against at home.”
South Lake, which defeated Liberty, 34-7, last year, features a center playmaker in tailback Kelley Joiner, Jr., who ran for 2,240 yards and 25 touchdowns last season as a junior. The Eagles racked up nearly 450 yards a game in offense according to MaxPreps.
“They will be a very good test, we’ll know better where we’re at ourselves by Saturday,” Pennington said. “They’ve run that veer-and-dive offense for years, they play hard and fast and are a very skilled team. I hope we get the same support as last week; it should be a heck of a game from a fan’s point of view.”