By Chris Parsons / Staff Writer
KNOX CENTRAL — If there was any doubt the Knox Central Panthers’ offense would lack the punch it had the past few years, Scott Russell’s team squashed that notion in its 51-7 season opening win over Atherton Friday.
The Panthers scored on their first drive of the game thanks to a one-yard scamper by Jonathan Gist and never looked back en route to the lopsided win in the 2013 Pioneer Bowl.
Despite Gist’s 192-yard two-touchdown effort, Matthew Barger took home the game’s offensive MVP award after snagging a pair of touchdowns (29 and 40 yards) through the air.
Despite what he called a slow start, Russell said he was pleased with the win and the fact his team may have answered a few questions as far as maintaining last year’s momentum.
“We started out a little bit slow, but once we got in the flow of the game we competed well,” Russell said. “I can’t fault our effort and after the slow start we did well considering we had some new starters out there on the field.
“In all reality it’s kind of been the Jeff Canady show for the last couple years and everybody knew what we had in him,” he added. “I’ll tell you this, we’ve got some playmakers this year. Jonathan (Gist) came out and played a heck of a game and Matthew (Barger) did the same thing and this really tells you what kind of athletes we have all around on this team.”
The Panthers forced Atherton to punt on its first possession, but squandered the chance to stretch the lead when they turned the ball over. The Rebels tied things up when Dameon Philpot put Atherton on the scoreboard for the first and only time in the game as he broke free for a 29-yard touchdown run to tie things up at seven apiece.
Knox Central answered when Casey Diamond hit Tanner Wells with an eight-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 14-7 lead. The Panthers never looked back from that point. Consecutive receiving touchdowns by Barger pushed the Panthers' lead to 28-7 at halftime.
Knox Central picked up where it left off in the first half when Gist scored on their first possession of the third quarter from eight yards out, stretching the lead to 35-7.
Knox Central closed the third quarter scoring with a 28-yard touchdown run by freshman Jake Mills to make the score 42-7 heading to the fourth quarter.
Russell’s squad added a 28-yard field goal by Jacob Tate, who was 5-for-6 on extra point attempts, and a 15-yard touchdown run by Andrew Johnson to close out the scoring as they cruised to the 51-7 win.
Russell cautioned his team after the win that there was plenty work to do, as the competition gets tougher from this point on.
“We played a great game, but don’t let the scoreboard full you, we have plenty of work to do,” Russell said. “We’ll get in the film room Sunday and fix our mistakes and start getting ready for Southwestern next week.”