JaQuon Louden scored three times and Brandon Cheatham added a pair of touchdowns as the Wildcats defeated the Liberty Red Devils 42-20 in the first round of the 2A Playoffs Friday night at Wilson-Campbell Stadium.
The win was marred by several key injuries and a pair of ejections with just over six minutes to play. The game was well in hand with 6:21 remaining in the contest when it appeared that Liberty’s Dalton James and Ninety Six’s Ty Sanders traded punches. The Liberty bench cleared, and chaos ensued. When the dust had settled, Sanders was ejected, as was Kederick Williams, but Liberty’s James was not ejected. The result will be a suspension for the two Wildcats ejected.
The Wildcats were also hurt by injuries. A late, blind-sided hit on Wildcat safety and receiver Joseph Chaney resulted in Chaney suffering a broken collarbone. Rob Reynolds also sustained an injured shoulder in the game.
Liberty opened the game by going on a thirteen play, 68-yard drive that chewed up 6:47 and ended with a Rob Reynolds interception on a fourth down play in the end zone. Reynolds returned the pick to the seven yard line to give the Wildcats their first possession.
The Wildcats would need just under three minutes to drive 93 yards to take the lead. Hunter Watson connected on consecutive passes to Chaney and Ryan Booker for 36 and 21 yards respectfully to get the Wildcats deep into Red Devil territory. Brandon Cheatham finished off the drive with a 23 yard run with 2:25 left in the first quarter. Grant Dickey’s PAT gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead that they would not relinquish.
After a three and out by the Wildcat defense, the Wildcats used just two plays to get back into the end zone. A twelve yard punt gave the Wildcats possession at the Liberty 36 yard line. Rod Johnson raced 29 yards on the first play of scrimmage before Louden reached paydirt for the first time from the seven yard line. Dickey’s kick gave Ninety Six a 14-0 lead with 11 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Liberty would put together another drive mid-way through the second quarter. An eleven play drive ended with another Rob Reynolds interception near the end zone.
Starting from their own 10 yard line, the Wildcats marched 90 yards on just nine plays. Louden and Chaney added big plays on the drive. Louden had a 30 yard run for a key first down, while Chaney caught a pass from Watson for 27 yards to get the Wildcats inside the Liberty 10 yard line. Louden needed two plays and returned to the end zone with a six yard run. Dickey’s extra point was true for a 21-0 lead with 22 seconds remaining in the half.
The Wildcats were set to receive the opening kickoff of the second half, and the Red Devils attempted an onsides kick, but Rod Johnson caught the kick in stride and streaked down the sideline for a 49 yard scoring play. Dickey’s PAT was again good, boosting the lead to 28-0.
The Wildcats would get the ball back and this time they would cover 89 yards in four plays. Another big play by Chaney, this time a 55 yard run, got the Wildcats in scoring position. Cheatham covered the final 26 yards for his second touchdown of the night. However, on the play, a Liberty player grabbed Chaney from behind and rammed his head into the ground, causing Chaney to break his collarbone. The Liberty player was ejected for his actions. Dickey added a fifth PAT to set the score at 35-0.
Dalton James finally got loose for the Red Devils, weaving through Wildcat defenders for an 80 yard touchdown run. The extra point was no good, leaving the score 35-6.
After trading punts, the Wildcats would get on the board for the final time of the night. A six play, 43 yard dive was capped off by Louden’s third score of the night, this one from five yards out. Dickey’s sixth extra point made it 42-6.
Liberty added a pair of late touchdowns to make the final score 42-20.
With the injuries and the ejections, the Wildcats have to be concerned with the task of defeating Blacksburg next week. An already injury plagued season just got worse with the injuries to Chaney and Reynolds.
“We are not sure what we will do to fill the holes created tonight,” said Coach Chris Liner. “We will evaluate our players and make the needed adjustments, and hopefully give Blacksburg a game.”
The Wildcats amassed 348 yards of offense on just 36 plays. The ground game accounted for 259 yards of offense, with nine different players getting carries. Louden led the stable of backs with 65 yards on 8 carries, scoring three times. Cheatham added 56 yards and two touchdowns.
Watson was effective in his minimal passing attempts. He completed four of eight passes for 89 yards, but several big plays in the passing game highlighted big drives.
Chaney led the team with 2 catches for 63 yards.
The Wildcats will travel to Blacksburg next week for the second round of the 2A playoffs. Game time is set for 7:30.