By Chris Parsons / The Endzone Staff
RUSSELL COUNTY — The Knox Central Panthers had their hopes of a district title dashed by Russell County for the third straight season, this time in the form of a 33-0 loss to the Lakers.
The Panthers were plagued by injuries before the game even got underway with starting quarterback Matt Barger on the bench. Things got worse for Scott Russell’s team when it lost freshman backup Casey Diamond late in the first half.
Russell gave his team credit after the loss for playing hard throughout the game, but admitted that injuries, coupled with playing against a quality Russell County team was a little too much for his team to overcome.
“Our kids never quit and for that I give them credit,” Russell said. “When you start a game without your starting quarterback and then lose your second string guy in the first half, it’s tough to overcome.
“We lost our No. 2 tailback (Jared Hall) tonight as well, so it seemed like things just kept on piling up on us as the game went on,” he added. “This is probably the most injuries I have ever had to deal with as a coach, but the kids kept fighting.”
Russell County took control on the first drive of the game when Evan Fletcher scampered in from 19 yards out to cap a drive that ate up the first 7:35 of the game and put the Lakers on top, 7-0.
Knox Central failed to answer on its first drive of the game and the Lakers made them pay when Fletcher scored the second of his four touchdowns in the game to stretch the lead to 14-0 with 1:42 to play in the first quarter.
The two teams traded possessions until the 6:01 mark of the second quarter when Fletcher intercepted a Casey Diamond pass and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown to put the Lakers on top, 20-0.
Things got worse from there for the Panthers when Diamond was hit out of bounds, drawing penalty flags and forcing the freshman out of the game as he left the field via stretcher and was taken to an area hospital to be evaluated.
Despite the penalty, Knox Central was unable to make anything happen as they trailed 20-0 at halftime.
The second half started much like the first half ended when the Panthers turned the ball over, leading to a 15-yard touchdown pass from Blake Ellis to Braxton Mann, staking the Lakers to a 26-0 lead with 6:39 to play in the third quarter.
Russell County closed out the scoring with 3:00 to play in the third quarter when Fletcher broke free for a 50-yard touchdown run, his fourth score of the game.
Knox Central had a chance to break the scoring drought late in the game, but time ran out as the Panthers fell, 33-0.
Despite the loss and rash of injuries, Russell said he has confidence that his team will come out and play hard next week against Corbin. He was quick to point out that the game doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things as the Panthers have already secured a home game in the first round of the playoffs.
“Next week isn’t really important, but I’m sure that the guys we send out there will come out and play hard,” Russell said. “The big thing is we want to try to get healthy before the playoffs and try to make a run.”