BARBOURVILLE – With Jeffery Canady and the Knox Central rushing attack struggling to get anything going, it was the Panther’s special teams and passing game that proved to be the difference in a matchup of mountain powers on Friday. Knox Central took the lead on a 68-yard bomb and regained it thanks in part to a big kickoff return during a 12-6 victory over the visiting Black Bears.
The Bears’ offense played most of the first quarter in Knox Central territory, but came away without a score. Harlan County drives stalled inside the Panthers’ 35-yard line twice, including a 33-yard missed field goal.
“Both defenses came out and played lights out. We had the bend but don’t break philosophy. We knew they are a good football team, and they would get some first downs,” said Knox Central coach Scott Russell.
A pair of 13-yard runs by senior Jeffery Canady closed the first quarter and finally gave the Panthers room to operate at their own 31. Two plays later, quarterback Devon Evans found receiver Matthew Barger streaking down the left sideline for a 68-yard score. The extra point failed, but the Panthers led 6-0 with 11:47 left in the second quarter.
Harlan County quickly answered with its best drive of the night. Senior Jake Middleton carried the ball four straight times, including a 43-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 6. Cole Wilson’s extra point attempt was no good, leaving the score at 6-6 with 9:37 remaining in the first half.
“Mental mistakes killed us. We had kids going in the game that didn’t know how to line up. We missed some opportunities,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “You can’t take anything away from Knox Central. They have a good football team, and are well coached.”
The teams traded defensive stands for the rest of the second quarter and took the tie into the break.
Evans turned in one of the plays of the game to open the second half, as he returned the opening kickoff to the Harlan County 26-yard line. The Harlan County defense forced a fourth down, but Evans connected with Canady for a 16-yard gain that resulted in a first down to the Harlan County 4.Three plays later, Canady jumped over a pile at the goal line and into the endzone to put the Panthers up 12-6. The extra point was no good.
The teams exchanged defensive stands for the rest of the second half, as Knox held on for the win.
“I thought the defense played well. They gave up a couple of big plays, but they played good enough to win,” Larkey said.
The Bears best drive of the half came on the final possession. Harlan County took over its own 14-yard line with 3:44 remaining after the defense forced a turnover on downs. Senior quarterback Austin Maggard delivered the big play of the drive with a 24-yard quarterback keeper around the left side on fourth down. Two plays later Maggard found Cole Wilson on a screen that went for 20 yards to the Knox Central 30 with just 32 seconds left in the game. After an incompletion, and a pair of penalties, Maggard’s last second heave was picked off by Nathan Cole at the Knox Central 7.
Harlan County (3-2) returns to action next week at home against George Rogers Clark. Knox Central (6-0) will travel to Clay County.