HARROGATE, Tenn. — The Cumberland Gap Panthers head one county south to renew their rivalry with Union County on Friday.
The Panthers are riding high after opening the season with a 20-16 win at Wartburg Central last week. Coach Neal Pucciarelli says he was glad to see the team go out an compete for the entire game.
“I was pleased with the effort. From the first quarter to the fourth quarter the kids played hard the entire night and that’s a big step for us. Especially early in the season to overcome the leg cramps, the score and different things like that,” he said. “I thought they showed resiliency throughout the game and I was real pleased with that and how we dominated the line of scrimmage, especially in the second half.”
Friday the Panthers are on the road again to take on the Union County Patriots. This is a game that’s grown into a bit of a rivalry thanks to a couple of baseball incidents as well as competitive game every year on the gridiron.
Cumberland Gap pulled out a 28-12 win at home last season after eking out a 21-16 win over the Patriots in 2010. Union comes in at 0-1 after losing 38-6 at Grainger last week.
“When we play it’s always close, I think last year they held the lead at halftime. I know last week they had a tough one against Grainger County, but Grainger has a really good football team. This is their first home game of the season and they’re going to be ready to show their home fans that they can play,” Pucciarelli said.
The coach said his team is relatively healthy for the game, though several players are dealing with bumps and bruises.
“I’ve gone back and forth to the trainers at LMU all week and I hope they respond to the treatment and we have them all in there for four quarters Friday night,” he said.
Pucciarelli added that the key for his Panthers is to just concentrate on getting better.
“It’s not about Union County as much as it is about Cumberland Gap improving week-to-week and getting to where we want to be as a team,” he said. “We want to compete for a regional championship and that’s the kids’ goal. We have to focus on Union County, but we need to think about getting better as a team and make sure we’re doing all we can to make that happen.”
The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.