By John Stepp For The Endzone
The Knox Central Panthers got a tremendous effort from their defense in a 24-14 win over the visiting Rockcastle Rockets in Friday night’s district matchup.
The Panthers forced three turnovers in the game – two fumbles and an interception – while holding the Rockets scoreless in the second half. The defense was led by middle linebacker Hayden Canady and defensive back Patrick Dollar. Canady had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery on the night, while Dollar had a game-ending interception, along with several big plays against the Rockcastle passing game.
“Our defense stepped up big for us tonight. With the exception of one big pass play, we kept their offense in check,” said Coach Scott Russell. “They throw the ball real well, so we had some kids step up and get the job done for us tonight.”
The fans appeared to be in for an exciting night to start the game, as both teams came out firing on all cylinders. Knox Central got the ball first and wasted no time reaching the end zone. A pass from Matthew Barger found Dollar down the sideline for a 41-yard reception to the Rockcastle five-yard line. Two plays later, senior running back Jonathan Gist found pay dirt, on a three-yard run, giving the Panthers a 6-0 lead with 7:39 left in the first quarter. Gist would lead all rushers in the game with 97 yards and a touchdown.
Rockcastle took little time to respond, taking the ensuing kickoff and scoring just a few plays later, when running back Isaiah Adams punched the ball in from the five-yard line. John Hughes connected on the extra point and the Rockets took a 7-6 lead with 3:56 remaining in the quarter.
But Barger and company would not be outdone by the Rockets. With just one-minute left in the first quarter, Barger found running back Jared Hall in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown pass, to put the Panthers back on top 12-6.
“Offensively we came out and did some things well,” said Russell. “I was pleased with the way we ran the ball and we made some nice plays in the passing game as well.”
The Panthers appeared to have slowed down the Rockcastle passing attack in the second quarter, as the Rockets had the ball 3rd-and-17 from their own 48-yard line. But, a 52-yard pass from Corey McPhetridge to Hughes went for a touchdown, putting the Rockets back on top, 14-12.
The Panthers got the ball back with just over two-minutes left in the half and 70-yards standing between them and a touchdown. Barger took control of the Knox Central offense and orchestrated a drive that ended in a touchdown run by the senior quarterback with just 1.1-seconds remaining in the first half, giving the Panthers an 18-14 lead heading into halftime.
The game took a turn in the second half, as neither team could quite get it going on offense. The Panthers looked to add another score in the third quarter, driving the ball all the way to the Rockcastle goal line. With the ball at the one-yard line, Coach Scott Russell called on Gist, who dove over the pile of linemen, only to land just short of a touchdown.
The Rockets’ goal line stand seemed to give Rockcastle the momentum, but the Panthers defense responded and forced the Rockets to punt the ball away, helping keep Knox Central in the lead at 18-14, heading into the fourth quarter.
With the ball to start the fourth quarter, the Panthers finally found the scoreboard in the second half. Sophomore running back Jacob Mills scored from three-yards out to extend the Panthers’ lead to 24-14 with 8:09 remaining in the game and Rockcastle County never recovered.