TIMES TRIBUNE (CORBIN, Ky.)
By John Stepp / For The Endzone
KNOX CENTRAL — After dropping their last two games, the Knox Central Panthers rolled past the Whitley County Colonels, 46-27, improving their record to 4-2 on the season.
A breakout performance by sophomore running back Jacob Mills propelled the Panthers to the win. Mills finished the night with 183 yards on 23 carries, while scoring two touchdowns. Mills played in the absence of starting running back Jonathon Gist, who left the game in the second quarter with a pinched nerve.
“Jacob stepped up and it was probably our fault for not giving him more of a chance so far this year. But we knew he had something special about him,” Knox Central Coach Scott Russell said. “Can’t say enough about him and what kind of game he had tonight. He ran really hard.”
The Panthers also had a huge performance from junior quarterback Matthew Barger. Barger threw for 87 yards and three touchdowns, and also added 10 carries for 128 yards and a score.
“One thing about Matthew is that he always gives you everything he’s got,” Russell said. “He never really came out of the game tonight, and he played great on offense for us and defense, too.”
It looked as if Whitley was going to give Knox Central a run for the game, as both teams came out firing in the opening quarter. The Panthers found the scoreboard on their first possession when fullback Hayden Canady crossed the goal line from one-yard out. The extra point was good and Knox Central took a 7-0 lead. Whitley County answered with an impressive drive of their own, capped off by a Austin Ysidro three-yard touchdown run, to tie the game at seven apiece with just over six minutes to play in the first quarter.
The teams would trade scores again in the quarter. This time Mills scored on a 30-yard run to push the Panther lead to 14-7, but Ysidro scored his second touchdown of the game on the very next drive. Whitley County missed their extra point, and the Panthers took a 14-13 lead into the second quarter.
“I thought we came out good tonight. There are still a few things we need to clean up, but I was happy for our guys tonight,” Russell said. “We ran the ball really well tonight.”
The Panthers wasted no time scoring in the second quarter, when Barger connected with Gist on a 28-yard screen pass that went for six, and pushed the Knox Central lead to 20-13 with 10:35 remaining in the first half. Later in the quarter, Barger would throw his second touchdown pass of the night, this time to tight end Tanner Wells on a four-yard pass to give the Panthers a 27-13 lead with just under three minutes to go in the second quarter.
The Colonels had their chances to score in the quarter, but those chances were squandered on two fumbles in Knox Central territory. The Colonels would finish with five turnovers on the night – four fumbles and one interception.
“We have to learn to take care of the football. There are very few teams who are good enough to overcome that many turnovers in a game, and we’re not good enough to do that,” Whitley County Coach Jim Black said. “Until we learn to take care of the football, we won’t be able to beat anyone. You just can’t win doing that.”
Whitley County cut the lead to 27-20 to start the second half, as Zach Mills scored on a three-yard touchdown run. Barger quickly gave the Panthers back their two-touchdown lead with a 59-yard scoring run on the very next play from scrimmage, giving the Panthers a 33-20 lead, that would stand until the fourth quarter.
Knox Central continued to dominate the game in the final period, outscoring the Colonels 13-7 in the final 12 minutes. Barger would throw his third touchdown pass, connecting with Jeffrey Adams, and Mills scored his second rushing touchdown of the night, this time with a 30-yard run.
The Colonels would get one more score on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Luke Woods to Zach Mills. That would end Whitley’s scoring for the night, leading to their 46-27 loss.
“I think this game was really important. We haven’t lost two games in a row since 2009. It was good to come out here and get a win, just for morale,” Russell said. “That is when teams fall apart, but we had a great week of practice, and I was proud of the way we came out and played.”