It was a tale of two halves when Pineville, Kentucky’s team traveled to Cumberland Gap recently. The Mountain Lions allowed two touchdowns in the first half to take a narrow one-point lead into halftime. The game completely changed in the second half as the Pineville defense held the Panthers to one score en route to a 37-18 victory.
“Overall, I’ve got mixed emotions. As a defensive coordinator, the first half, we played about as bad as you can play,” said interim-head coach Chris Murphy. “At halftime, I challenged them a little bit, and they responded very well.”
“They started making plays in the second half. Offensively, defensively, special teams, we played pretty well all the way together in the second half. I’m very proud in the way we responded.”
Special teams were a difference maker for the Mountain Lions. To be more specific, the kick returning prowess of Matt Golden helped pace the team. During the game, Golden returned two kickoffs for a touchdown — one for 72 yards and another for 60 yards. Each touchdown changed the momentum of the game for Pineville.
“Matt is a kid that never misses practice. He is one of the hardest workers at practice,” said Murphy. “I couldn’t be more happy for a kid who has put in so much hardwork to get rewarded the way he got rewarded tonight. He was the difference-maker tonight. Every time we got down, he always took a big play and got us back up. I’m very proud of Matt.”
Tucker Woolum paced the team on offense. The senior quarterback threw for a game-high 187 yards and one touchdown on eight completions. He also ran for a game-high 148 yards and two touchdowns.
Will Adams caught three passes for 103 yards and a touchdown to lead all receivers. Nike Mason hauled in 34 yards on three receptions, while Trent Lefevers tallied 47 yards on his lone reception.
Lawrence Simpson aided Pineville in the rushing game, running for 74 yards on 11 carries.
The Cumberland Gap offense was led by their running attack. Jayson Upton led the charge with 124 yards on seven carries. Matt Muggridge carried the majority of the load on the ground with 86 yards on 14 carries.
Jacob Bullins rushed for 41 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries. He also completed three passes for 35 yards. Upton led all Panther receivers with 25 yards on two receptions.
Big plays helped the Mountain Lions on the opening drive. On second-and-17, Woolum connected with Adams for a 29-yard completion to keep the drive alive. Three plays later, Woolum connected with Adams again for a 56-yard touchdown pass with 9:29 remaining in the first. The extra point gave Pineville a 7-0 lead.
Cumberland Gap took a different approach on their first drive of the game. The Panthers nickel and dimed their way into Mountain Lion territory. On third-and-9, a 10-yard pass from Bullins to Preston England kept the drive alive.
Cumberland Gap capped the nine-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge from Bullins with 4:51 remaining in the quarter. The missed extra point cut the lead to 7-6 in favor of Pineville.
On the ensuing kickoff, Golden took the return 72 yards for a touchdown with 4:35 remaining in the quarter to give the Mountain Lions a 13-6 lead.
The Panthers remained unfazed by touchdown as they marched down the field again. Seven plays into the drive, Muggridge broke free on a 25-yard run to move Cumberland Gap to the Pineville 3.
Three plays later, Bullins scored on a 1-yard run as time expired in the quarter. The extra point woes continued for the Panthers as they missed the kick to give the Mountain Lions a 13-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Neither team was able to put the ball in the end zone in the second. On the opening drive of the quarter, Pineville drove the ball down to the Panther 17. A Mountain Lion fumble was recovered by Anthony Palazzolo.
Pineville took the ball just outside the red zone again later in the quarter, but time expired before they could score.
Cumberland Gap started fast out of the gate in the second half. On the third play of the opening drive, Upton sprinted 62 yards down the field on a sweep to score a touchdown with 10:46 remaining in the third. A failed two-point conversion gave the Panthers an 18-13 lead.
As he did in the first half, Golden came up big when the team needed him. On the ensuing kickoff, he took the ball 60 yards for his second kickoff return for a touchdown on the night. A failed two-point conversion gave the Mountain Lions a 19-18 lead.
The Pineville defense came up with a big stop on the next drive. After a nice return for Gage Ellison, Cumberland Gap took over possession on the Mountain Lion 49. A 19-yard run by Ellison plus a Pineville penalty moved the ball down to the 14-yard line.
The Panthers drove the ball down to the Pineville 7 before turning the ball over on downs on fourth-and-3.
On the next possession, the Mountain Lions capped off an 11-play drive with a 9-yard touchdown run by Woolum with 26.5 seconds remaining in the third to increase the lead to 25-18.
The opening drive of the fourth quarter looked promising for Cumberland Gap. The Panthers moved the ball down to the Pineville 23, but an incompletion on fourth-and-long ended the drive.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Woolum broke free for a 77-yard touchdown run with 6:30 remaining in the game. The failed two-point conversion increased the lead to 31-18.
The Mountain Lions capped off a strong second half with a 48-yard touchdown run from Simpson with 1:16 remaining in the game to walk away with a 19-point victory.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN