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Wildcats face toughest test yet Friday night
Richmond Hill, Liberty collide in Region 2A-AAAA opener
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Despite a 4-0 start, Richmond Hill High School has yet to play what second-year head coach Lyman Guy considers a complete game.

They Wildcats will need one Friday night, when they take on Liberty County High School (2-2) in the Region 2A-AAAA opener for both teams.

The Panthers (2-2) not only have one of the area's toughest defenses, holding opponents to 12 points a game, they have one of the state's top running backs, University of Kentucky commitment Shadrach Thornton.

At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Thornton, already has 822 yards and eight touchdowns in just four games and more than 3,000 in his career. He was on the wish list of a number of Division I schools, including Georgia Tech.

"He's the real deal," said Guy, who noted Thornton isn't the only star on the Panthers roster. "They're a very athletic team and (head coach Kirk Warner) does a great job coaching those guys up. And any time you're facing a team that's got a Division 1 caliber running back, Division 1 defense ends and Division 1 linebackers, it's a tough test."

Led by defensive end Melvin King, who's already made a verbal commitment to Georgia State, defensive end Anthony Dabson, linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Marcus LeCounte, the Panthers don't try to fool anyone.

They simply get after the football.

"Their defense impresses me as much as anything about them, maybe moreso," Guy said. "Physically, they're probably as good as anybody we'll face all year and their front seven is about as good as any I've seen. One thing I noticed (in film) about them against Statesboro and Effingham, they (Liberty opponents) just had a hard time staying on their blocks. The main reason is that Liberty is so athletic, they were able to get off their blocks and still pursue."

What's more, the Panthers, like the Wildcats, are coming off a bye week, which gives Liberty County time to bone up on the Wildcats' spread option offense.

But it also gives the Wildcats time to heal up nagging injuries - something Guy said the team could use.

"Sometimes it's hard to tell whether a week off is good or bad," he said. "You don't want to break your rhythm. But I do know from an injury standpoint we needed to heal up a little bit, so I think the bye week helped."

Yet for the Wildcats, the top priority is eliminating mistakes and overcoming a tendency to sputter at times offensively.

"The greatest concern I have is the same concern I had in week one," Guy said. "We've not yet put a complete game together in all three phases of the game. If we go into the game and execute and take care of the ball, we've got a chance. If we go in there and shoot ourselves in the foot, we could come out of there on the losing end."

Offensively, Richmond Hill has spread the wealth among a number of players, from quarterback Dominique Allen to slotback Alex Cruz and running backs TJ Franklin, David Katzman and Aaron Dixon.

"One of the things we like to hang our hat on is that we have unselfish kids so we don't feel like any kid in particular needs to touch the ball the most," Guy said. "Everybody in the backfield has the capability to make a big play, and they're so unselfish as a group it makes us a hard team to game plan for."

Yet while the skill position players usually get all the attention, Guy said the team's offensive line has been "the cog that makes the machine work."

"They're the workhorses up front," he said. "They're not going to be in the paper, they're not going to have the stats, but in my opinion they're the primary reason this year has been so successful so far."

Defensively, the Wildcats are led by inside linebackers Connor Beeson and Trevor Thomas - but it's far from a two-man show.

"I think they're steadily improving," Guy said, noting the defense kept the Wildcats in the game against South Effingham in the first half while the offense tried to get untracked.. "The defensive coaching staff is doing a great job. They put in the time to prepare the guys and each week they're seeing improvement."

The Wildcat defense faces perhaps their sternest test yet on Friday night against. In Thornton, they'll face one of the most gifted running backs they'll see this season.

"We've got to try to prevent Shadrach from having big plays," Guy said. "It won't be easy. He's going to get his yardage, but hopefully we can contain him enough to not give him those 60- and 70-yard runs."
Key for the Wildcats will be preventing big plays, playing soundly on offense and winning the battle of special teams - in other words, a complete game.

"If we get good solid output from the offense, control the ball, have a good game on special teams and not make mistakes, maybe have a couple big plays so we can flilp the field on them, and be solid on defense and not give up the big plays, we'll have a chance," Guy said. "But Liberty County is so good, you have to be good in all three phases of the game to give yourself a chance to win."



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