TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
By Les Dixon For the Times-Tribune
After starting the season off with a perfect 3-0 record, things began to head south for Scott Russell’s Knox Central Panthers.
Granted, the Panthers (6-4) reached the Class 4A playoffs again, but they posted a 3-4 mark during the final seven games of the regular season while losing in first round action of the Class 4A playoffs for the first time since a 2011 loss to Boyle County.
Injuries played a big role in Knox Central’s struggles down the stretch.
Players such as quarterback Matt Barger, tailback Jonathan Gist and a hand full of offensive linemen battled nagging injuries, leading to the Panthers' struggles scoring points.
Knox Central was shut out during its final two regular season games, and managed to only score 14 points in a 31-14 loss to Mercer County in first round action of the Class 4A playoffs.
“Injuries really set us back,” Russell said. “There is no doubt about that, but we don't make excuses. Injuries hurt us more so this year than any other year I can remember as a coach. It is what it is, but we played hard and in the end, though, we just didn’t have enough gas in the tank.
“It really put our kids in a tough spot, but football is football and it happens,” he added. “There were some positive things that came out of it, and one was our younger kids got to see a whole lot more playing time. That experience will help in the long run. We started five freshmen the other night in the playoff game against Mercer County. It put us at a disadvantage, but the experience was valuable for these younger kids.”
Despite the struggles, Russell feels like his team will be fine heading into next season.
“We had seven seniors and three of those played significant time for us,” he said. “Were losing a lineman, and a tailback, and we’re really getting everyone else back. I'm looking forward to it. We will have some holes to fill, but I like what we are returning.”
The departure of Jonathan Gist will hurt, but Russell believes his team will be fine in the long haul.
“'G’ was a great player for us,” he said. “We’re going to have to improve and have some players step up, and I believe we will. The big thing for us is that we need to go into the weight room and start working.”
Russell admitted his team had a lot of positives come out of the 2013 campaign. Although he would have liked for his team's season to last longer, overall, he liked his players’ efforts on the grid.
“We played hard and played good at times,” he said. “We played for the district championship once again, and I believe we'll be right there again next season.
“We had some key players out against Russell County, and it just began to carry over after that game. It was just one of those years injuries got the best of us — it just wasn’t our year.”