By John Stepp For the Times-Tribune
The Knox Central Panthers have had the best season in the school’s history, totaling a 7-0 record and ranking fifth in the state in Class 4A. Despite their success this season, the Panthers know they cannot overlook this week’s opponent in the Rockcastle County Rockets.
The Rockets have a rich tradition of being one of the most physical teams in the mountains and Knox Central Coach Scott Russell knows his team must play tough if they want to continue their win streak.
“Rockcastle is one of those teams that is always good and can always beat you. We’ve had some wars with them in the past,” said Russell. “They are a much better team than their record shows, they’ve just hurt themselves here and there in some of their games.
“They are going to be physical and can sneak up on you. Our kids know we can’t overlook them,” he added.
With Rockcastle’s poor record this season (2-5), it would be easy for the Panthers to overlook this game, especially with district favorite Russell County awaiting them on Oct. 19. To ensure his players are focused, Russell said they must take a look at themselves on film and see in what areas they can improve.
“We have to show a lot of film on ourselves, and see how we make mistakes,” Russell said. “We have let them know that they aren’t as good as everyone tells them.
“Our biggest thing right now is playing a full four quarters,” he added. “We feel like we still haven't put a complete football game together, and that is what we are looking for.”
In last year’s district showdown between Knox Central and Rockcastle, the Panthers entered the game as somewhat of the underdog, but prevailed 40-14. Despite the big win, Knox Central finished tied in the district and ended up with the third seed, which still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the players and coaches.
“Going back to last year, our goal for this season is to win the district championship,” Russell said. “It’s what we talk about, and it’s what our players have on their minds.
“We don’t want to look ahead to Russell County or anyone else,” he added. “We are looking at Rockcastle as the next step to the district championship. We’re looking at them like they are in our way, and we want to take care of business.”
The key to the Panthers’ success this Friday will rely heavily upon their offensive and defensive lines. With Rockcastle’s physical and aggressive defense, running backs Jeffrey Canady (1,219 yards, 18 touchdowns) and Jonathon Gist (809 yards, 8 touchdowns) will look to their line to lead the way for the Panthers’ offense, while Armani Wardlaw and Hayden Canady will look to stuff the Rockets’ running game.
“They are a good team defensively, that is their strong suit,” Russell said. “They play a similar style defense to Harlan County, so it’s going to be tough to run on them.
“We want to try to throw the ball on them because I think that’s how you hurt them, but we’re going to stick to what we know best, and that is primarily running the ball,” he added. “The biggest thing is you’ve got to win up front. The line has to play well for us on both sides of the ball. They do what they do on offense, try to run the ball and pick up first downs. We have to be as physical as they are, and make sure we know where each player is, each and every play. If not, someone is going to sneak through on you.”