TIMES TRIBUNE (CORBIN, Ky.)
By Chris Parsons / Staff Writer
CLAY COUNTY — Saturday’s nailbiting 28-27 win over Prestonsburg can be described as a ‘Who’s-Who’ when it comes to the players that stepped up big for the Panthers as they started the season with a 3-0 record for the second straight season.
It wasn’t easy though.
Prestonsburg had a chance to take the lead in the game's final minutes, but the Panther defense found a way to slow things down and seal the win as time wound down.
Panther head coach Scott Russell said he would take the close games, just as long as his is the team coming out on the right end of the deal.
“We don’t want to be known as the heartbreak kids for losing games like this,” Russell said. “We need to learn to have that killer instinct of when to put teams away.
“We could ended this game in the third quarter, but we had a few mistakes and a few penalties that really shifted things,” he added. “When you let a good team like Prestonsburg back in a game like this one, most of the time, they're going to make you pay for it.”
As for the statistics, Jonathan Gist led all rushers with 253 yards. Matthew Barger took over at quarterback and got the job done, completing seven-of-15 pass attempts while rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown,
Jared Hall collected 30 receiving yards and a touchdown, while Matthew Dollar added 35 yards receiving.
One of the biggest plays of the game came when Hayden Canady was lined up in the fullback position and bulldozed his way to a key first down that kept the clock moving late in the contest.
Knox Central struck first on a six-yard touchdown run by Barger to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead after Jacob Tate missed an extra point attempt for the first time this season.
It didn't take the Blackcats long to strike back when Jarred Jarrell scored on a four-yard quarterback keeper with 7:13 to play in the second quarter to give Prestonsburg a 7-6 lead.
The Panthers marched down the field on their next possession, using an eight-play drive, that was capped off with a one-yard score by Barger, giving the lead back to Knox Central (14-7) with 3:49 to play in the first half.
After a fumble by the Prestonsburg offense on its next possession, Barger found Hall for a 30-yard touchdown strike to make the score 21-7 at halftime.
All was quiet until Prestonsburg’s Chatlin Jarrell intercepted a Barger pass and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown to trim the Panther lead to 21-14 with 5:12 left to play in the third quarter.
The Blackcats made good on their next opportunity as well, using Jarred Jarrell on an eight-yard carry to tie things up at 21 apiece with 10:30 to play in the game.
After back-to-back scores by Prestonsburg, it was the Panthers’ turn to flex a little muscle and they did just by taking less than two minutes to get Hall into the endzone from eight yards out, putting the Panthers back on top, 28-21, with more than eight minutes to play in the game.
The string of strange plays continued late in the game as Prestonsburg fumbled the ball on its next possession, but Jackson Reed was able to pick the ball up and score, trimming the gap to 28-27 after the Blackcats failed to make good on the extra point attempt.
The Panthers did their job of eating as much clock as they could before giving the ball back to Prestonsburg with under a minute to play. A few last-ditch efforts proved fruitless as the Panthers held on for the 28-27 win.
“Like I said, we'll take the win, but we’ve got some mistakes we really need to clean up,” Russell said. “There are some penalties that are things we don't want. I’m proud of my team for the most part because we came out here and won, but we don’t have much time to celebrate as we start working on Harlan County stuff really soon.”