The Cumberland Gap Panthers went on the prowl Oct. 7 and made their way to the top of South Greene’s Rebel Hill. The Panthers were impressive as they pounced ahead of the Rebels during the first half but the persistent Rebels made a second half comeback to win the game 41-20.
Cumberland Gap came into this game with an intent to grab victory and for the first two quarters looked like they were the team to beat. The Panthers defense set the tone early by being aggressive and forcing a punt. Bryce Rogers made a hit that rocked the entire Rebels team emotionally and the rest of the Panthers team were then dedicated to making some of their hardest hitting plays of the season.
Jayson Upton immediately started running the ball on the Rebel defense as he was finding nice gaps up the middle and helped to open up the passing game. Jacob Bullins hit Upton for the game’s opening score with 7:49 showing on the clock. Nich Neverstitch added the point after and the Panthers enjoyed the early lead at 7-0.
The Panthers defense rose up again and got another stop that forced a Rebels punt then the Panthers offense had limited success that ended their drive with a punt of their own. During the punt, flags were flying as the officials deemed that the Panthers tackler had made an illegal tackle by grabbing him high near the back of the neck. Panthers fans thought that it was not a horse collar that instead he had grabbed the jersey not the shoulder pads. The end result was a gain of 15 yards for the Rebels placing them on the Panthers’ 43-yard line.
The Panthers defense met the ball carrier in the backfield for a big loss. A bad snap at 4:44 backed the Rebels up even more as they now had a third and long situation. They were forced into their second punt of the game and it was fair caught by Gage Ellison on the Panthers’ 25.
Matt Muggridge got the call for a run and gained a yard as the Rebels had scouted him heavily and were prepared to stop his efforts. Two runs by Muggridge again opened up the pass for the Bullins to Upton connection that netted a first down. Ellison joined in the rushing attack and Muggridge followed it up with another chain moving run. The drive ended because of Panthers mistakes in the form of back to back penalties. On a third and very long the Panthers coaching staff called a safe running play and relied on the punt and a swarming mad defense to stop the Rebels.
Now in the second quarter, the Panthers defense forced a fumble and gave the ball back to their offense near the Rebel red zone. Upton and Bullins combined rushes that led to a third and three but failed and the Panthers were confident enough to go for the first. The gamble did not pay off and the ball turned over on downs to the Rebels.
Tanner Brooks, Upton and a host of other defenders found the football on a Rebels run and blew it up for a loss. The Panthers secondary stepped up and knocked down a pass deep down field followed by another incomplete pass that Rogers secured and returned for a couple yards. Upton again ran for a first down and then Muggridge carried for another big first down and kept the drive alive after a loss. Bullins hit Tyler Thompson for six yards and that play was followed by a Muggridge TD run covering 37 yards to increase their lead to 14-0 after the point after attempt sailed through the uprights.
The Rebels had a drive going and were approaching the Panthers red zone but shot themselves in the foot with an illegal block plus a bad snap that forced them into going for the first with around 56 seconds left. The Panthers took over but were conservative as they were backed up on their end of the field. The seconds clicked off the clock and ended the first half of play with the score 14-0 in favor of the visiting Panthers.
When the third quarter began the momentum shifted when the Panthers put the ball on the ground and was recovered by the Rebels. The next play for the Rebels was a long pass that placed the ball on the Panthers seven. On a third down play the flags flew when a Panther grabbed a face mask giving the home team the first down needed to continue the drive. The Rebels scored at 8:51 and after the kick was down only seven at 14-7.
The yellow flags then began flying at a frequent rate most of them against the Panthers and the Rebels used those Panther mistakes to tie the game at 14-14 with 5:13 showing in the third. The Panthers offense stalled and were forced to punt. One play later, the Rebels went 35 yards for the go-ahead score. It was 21-14 at the 3:30 mark in the third. A good return by Upton set the Panthers up on the 45 and a long pass to Brady Pearman had them on the 11 of the Rebels and looking for the tying score. After being scared by a fumble, the Panthers fans witnessed Muggridge go in for the score. The point after was blocked and it would be the last points for the visiting Panthers.
From that moment on, the Rebels used mistakes and timely Panthers penalties to score 20 unanswered points and to capture the victory at 41-20. It was a game that the Panthers could have stolen from the Rebels but it was denied them.
Following the game coach DeLynn Cline spoke to his players and said, “Guys, I’m proud of the fight and the fact that you played through adversity. That is what we have to do week to week.” He went on to add, “We have to depend on each other; we only have each other and we must not forget that and play as a team.”
Reach Allen Earl at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @pitchadude.