The Cumberland Gap Middle School Panthers made the trip across Powell River bridge into Bulldogs territory Sept. 29 for another exciting rivalry football game.
Coming into this game, Panthers head coach Ben Owens said, “We have seemed to turn the corner and are playing our best football of the season.”
Owens was right and for the first half they gave the Bulldogs, who were celebrating homecoming, all they wanted and more. Claiborne pulled away late in the second half for the 41-22 victory but it wasn’t an easy win.
The Panthers received the opening kick and it did not take long for them to find the end zone with a pass to Andrew Sutton. The conversion attempt was no good and the Panthers held a 6-0 lead.
The ensuing kick was blasted at Timmy Collins and he covered it quickly giving the Bulldogs offense the ball near midfield. Storm Livesay, Chesten Anderson and Logan Daniels did the work for the Bulldogs setting the team up at the Panthers goal line. Cade Rogers tackled the Bulldog runner on the first and goal situation and Sutton helped out against an Anderson carry forcing Claiborne to throw. Jimmy Del Ervin made a diving catch for the first Bulldogs touchdown but the Bulldogs not convert the two-point conversion. The game was tied at 6-6.
The Panthers were close on the kickoff and Toby Duncan made them pay by kicking it over their head. This was the start of a great game by Duncan. This drive by the Panthers ended with a blocked punt also by Duncan with two more Bulldogs right beside him. Anderson recovered the blocked kick. The Bulldogs quickly scored on an Anderson run up the gut but again the conversion was no good. The score was now 12-6.
The Panthers quickly returned the momentum to their side on a long kickoff return by Sutton. He then added the two point conversion to take the lead 13-12. Tyler Mayes for the Panthers was a one man wrecking crew on the Bulldogs next drive. Livesay and Anderson withstood the great defense by Mayes and finally pushed another run across the goal line on a Livesay run at 2:01 but again the conversion was missed making the score 18-14.
Kenny Vaughn took another great kick from Duncan for positive return yards and then ran the ball along with Mayes for some moderate yardage before punting the ball back to Claiborne. The Bulldogs tried a long pass and completed it but just didn’t have the time to produce another score. At the half the Bulldogs led 18-14.
Before the game started, Maggie Mallicoat was named 2016 Soldier’s Memorial Middle School Homecoming Queen.
The Panthers coaching staff had a long conversation at the half with game officials as their team had twice the penalties that the Bulldogs had at 6-3. Coming out of the locker room, Claiborne started getting warnings about players rocking in their stances before the snap and were penalized for it soon after.
The Bulldogs had a drive going but Sutton and his defense slowed it down enough to force a fourth down attempt that failed; giving the ball to the Panthers.
The Panthers tried running the ball with Mayes and Sutton with some success but unfortunately the Panthers dropped the pigskin on the turf and Duncan was there to claim it for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs did not waste the chance to score and Eli Stone got the six on a keeper. Livesay completed the conversion for two and the Bulldogs now led 26-14.
In typical rivalry fashion, the Panthers stormed back and struck on a pass play to Sutton covering 49 yards for the score. Sutton then added the conversion to narrow the lead back to a reachable 26-22.
Anderson, Timmy Collins and Livesay moved the ball down field ending with a Livesay seven yard TD scamper. Anderson made the conversion and extended the score to 34-22 but was warned over excessive celebration.
The Panthers were driving for what looked to be another score when Logan Daniels got a pick six covering 30 yards to place six more points up on the board. Instead of the two point conversion, Coach Brody Wells gave Duncan a shot to kick a rare point after. They had trouble finding the kicking block and had to call a timeout but when he went back on the field he blasted his kick through the uprights making the score 41-22.
Jason Green and Daniel Eversole made plays for the Bulldogs’ defense that secured the 41-22 victory.
After the game, Wells addressed his team saying, “Wow this is about 22 more points than we expected but you guys did great and we’ll take it. We keep looking at our goal and finding a way to get the win but still we must keep getting better.” He jokingly added, “Thank you team for keeping me undefeated against the Gap.”
The players then pleaded for the customary “I love Claiborne County” cheer.
When asked for a comment about how his team performed, Coach Ben Owens denied the opportunity but his team had made its fan base impressed by their efforts.
As suggested by parent Arizona Cooper, the Bulldogs presented the Panthers team members a pocket Bible as a sign of unity.
The Bulldogs’ record went to 5-2 and they are officially the 2016 Regular Season East Division Champions and will host a playoff game Oct. 20.
Reach Allen Earl at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @pitchadude.