Panthers seek revenge against West Greene
by Jay Compton Sports Editor
HARROGATE, Tenn. — The Cumberland Gap Panthers may have revenge on their minds when the host West Greene on Friday, but the game is just as important for playoff positioning among the 3A teams in the Blue Ridge Athletic Conference.
Last year the Panthers won at West Greene 21-6 during the regular season, but the Buffaloes returned the favor in the first round of the playoff with a 17-12 win at Cumberland Gap. This season both teams are 2-2 and 0-1 in district play.
“That has stuck in our minds for sure. Coming into this week we feel like we owe them one,” Cumberland Gap coach Corey Russell said. “We’ve had a great week of practice and a great week of preparation. I think the attitude and focus is where it needs to be. We just need to come out on Friday and play like we can, do what we should do and we’ll be alright.”
A key for the Panthers so far this year is being careful to not try and do too much. When they’ve pressed it has led to turnovers, dropped passes and other mistakes. Those cost them dearly in a loss to rival Claiborne. They righted the ship last Friday with a 26-7 win at Sullivan East.
“We tell our guys all the time that we don’t have to do anything special. We just have to go out there and do what we’re supposed to do — the fundamental things: make our tackles, hold on to the football, make the catches,” Russell said. “We’re strong, we’ve got good size, we’re athletic, most of the time we’re not going to be beaten shearly on athleticism. We’re a good football team when we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot.”
The coach has been particularly pleased with how his Panthers have responded to adversity. That Claiborne game is a case in point. After getting down by three scores early they rallied to have a shot a tying the game in the final minute.
“The thing that has really stood out the most so far is the effort and the fight that these guys have. No matter what happens, good or bad, we have played four quarters as hard as we can play in every game and I’m tremendously proud of that,” Russell said.
Senior quarterback Dakota Brock is coming off his best all around game yet. He threw for 144 yards with touchdowns to Chase Smith and Rusty Provins and added 174 yards and two TDs on the ground against Sullivan East.
Russell said a key for Friday’s game is establishing the run early.
“The strength of our offense is our line. We’re big and strong up front, we’ve got a lot of smart guys that know who they should be going to get and how they should be going to get them,” he said. “We need to use that to establish our running game. When we get that solid first, everything kind of catches a rhythm off of that and we can go from there.
“Dakota is coming along very well, the receivers are doing a great job running their routes and catching the ball. It all stems from getting into a rhythm and running the ball is how we do that.”
As for the Buffaloes, they’ll bring a strong ground game to Cumberland Gap on Friday. Junior Jonathan Padgett ran it 17 times for 185 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-19 win over North Greene last week while senior Nathan Morgan added 94 yards and two touchdowns on eleven carries.
“They’ve got two little tailbacks that can run and run very fast,” Russell said. “We’ve got to bottle them up at the line of scrimmage and make our tackles whenever we can. If you give them a crease or an alley they’re going to hit it wide open.”
Friday’s game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.
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