After weeks of practice, the Cumberland Gap Panthers football team finally experienced live action that actually meant something. Coming into town were the Indians of Hancock County and they were coming in after a loss to Jellico and were focused on taking home the win. The Panthers were defeated soundly during last year’s meeting and were focused on starting off 2016 on a positive note.
The Panthers received some tough news earlier in the week as senior Panther Dean Turner found out he had a knee injury requiring surgery. Coach DeLynn Cline spoke about the injury and player, “Dean is such a great kid and I told his parents that I had no doubt he would be back but the news was like a punch in the gut to find out we lost him for the season. This is just football but I really hate it for him, the person, since it’s his senior season.”
Still these Panthers had to move on and focus on the game at hand.
“The big thing for us to do tonight is to get off to a fast start. Defensively we have to stop the run and their big running backs,” said Cline before the game. He added, “Offensively we have to execute and not beat ourselves.”
The fans were assembled in the stands and it was football time in Cumberland Gap as the team ran out on the field to the cheers of the Panther Nation. Just as the Panthers coaches expected, Hancock started using those big athletic running backs and placed the first points on the board. Their extra point attempt failed and the visiting Indians led 6-0.
It didn’t take long for the Panthers to realize that they too could run the ball as effectively. With 9:25 remaining in the first half, the Panthers found the end zone when Jacob Bullins sneaked over the goal line. The extra point attempt by Nick Neverstitch was true and the Panthers led for the first time. There was no additional first half scoring and the Panthers enjoyed a 7-6 advantage.
During the third quarter, the home team was on a great drive as Gage Ellison along with Jason Upton were moving the ball until it was fumbled back to the Indians. The Panthers defense held and the offense continued moving the ball with Matt Muggridge and Bullins leading the charge to their second TD of the night. Neverstitch kicked the P.A.T. through the uprights to extend the Panthers lead to 14-6.
The Indians then scored with 1:13 left in the half but failed on the conversion. The halftime score was 14-12.
The Panthers offense began a drive in the third that ended with their third TD once again behind the efforts of a great offensive line and the running of Muggridge, Upton and Bullins. The point after was blocked and the score was now 20-18. Now it was time for the defense to continue playing well, however, the Indians were not done and scored again with 1:20 remaining and had the Panther Nation hoping for a missed two point conversion. The ball was pitched out then dropped by the Indians leaving the Panthers on top 20-18.
The next drive for the home team ended in a punt but the hard working Panthers defense held and finished the game off with an interception by Ellison. The Panthers were greeted on the field by the student section who were taking part of the 18-game streak breaking victory over the Indians.
After the game Cline said, “During the first half they did a good job but we had one break containment. We were our own worst enemy by turning the ball over. We really should have been up by two scores anyway but they fought through all the mistakes and got the win.”
Cline continued, “The main thing is that our players broke that 18-game losing streak and now they have a taste of winning; it’s good for the players to now believe they can win.”
The Panthers will now focus on a home meeting with Gatlinburg-Pittman on Friday.
Reach Allen Earl at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @pitchadude.