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White River Athletic Conference Lead on the Line; Panthers, Royals Set to Battle
Knightstown emerged from last Friday night’s football game at North Decatur with a fairly bleak outlook. The team had fumbled the ball seven times and four of those resulted in touchdowns for North Decatur. In that game the Panthers got as many breaks as Wiley E. Coyote.
What’s even worse is they now have an injury list that spreads to two pages.
On the bright side, early in the fourth quarter some Panther starters were angry that they weren’t in the game down the stretch. Their pride was showing. They didn’t want North Decatur to score again and make the final tally worse.
It was evidence that these guys are competing until the end, but under the circumstances they didn’t stand much of a chance. North Decatur has racked up 172 points in four games this season so they certainly were no slouch opponent.
Now it’s on to the next game, and this one is a mid-season blockbuster. The Royals are coming to town.
Assuming enough Panthers can get healthy this week another classic battle is looming. Traditionally this is one of the best games of the year. Throw out the records because they’ve meant very little in this rivalry spanning nearly 40 years.
The history of the Knightstown and Eastern Hancock annual dogfight dates back to the late 1960’s and has continued uninterrupted.
The highest state ranking Eastern Hancock has ever had was number two in both the Coach’s and Associated Press polls. That happened in 1977 when the Royals were 4-0 and their players were yawning by halftime of every game. Then they played the Panthers, who were also 4-0 and ranked 8th in the state.
After Eastern led 21-0 early, Knightstown upset them in overtime, 35-28, in one of the best games ever played at the Panther field.
That was the year this rivalry got really personal. Since then the two teams have competed in a friendly battle that means a lot more than most of the other games on the schedule. It doesn’t get any better or exciting than Knightstown and Eastern Hancock on the football field.
Coach Kyle Johnson’s first year heading up the Royal program was in 1997, when he lost to the Panthers 25-0. That was the year the Panthers made their first trip to the Dome to play for a state championship, capping a 14-1 season.
Then in 1998 the Royals rolled through the regular season sporting an 8-0 record before finishing the schedule with a game at Knightstown. They lost 36-12 to a Panther team that was 4-4.
Overall Johnson is 6-5 against Knightstown, but lost his first three times. His team has bested the Panthers six of the last eight times they have played. Most notable was in 2003 when the 9-2 Panthers squared off against the 6-5 Royals in the sectional championship game. KHS had already beaten the Royals earlier in the season and was upset 13-7 in the final, the second straight sectional trophy for Coach Johnson’s kids.
The football programs at Knightstown and Eastern Hancock are the elite programs in the area. Between the two schools there have been three visits to the Dome to play for a state championship. The Royals won it all in 1985 and Knightstown finished as runner-up in 1997 and 2005.
The Royals come to town itching for an opportunity to take back home the Plowshare & Anvil, the new traveling trophy just created to mark the occasion. Both teams are 2-2 and neither one really knows what they are made of yet.
Over the past 12 seasons Knightstown has won eight times and the Royals have won seven. Three times the teams have met in the playoffs. Eastern Hancock has won six of the last eight meetings after the Panthers had won six of the previous seven.
Kyle Johnson wants to introduce Bob Prescott to Royal football. Prescott has coached at four different schools and has been on the inside of several rivalries.
I wonder if he has seen this.
Prescott said he knows his team has to find a way to stop Brent Bragdon, Eastern Hancock’s top running back who bulled his way for 188 yards and three touchdowns against Lapel.
“We like the scheme we have for Eastern Hancock and it’s just a matter of the kids going out there and executing that scheme,” Prescott said. “We have a lot of kids banged up and they are going to have to play through the pain.”
Johnson said his team is ready for the annual battle and they aren’t taking the Panthers lightly.
“Anything can happen when emotions are as high as they’ll be Friday night,” Johnson said. “They are a lot bigger than us up front, but we hope we’re quicker. I have seen some strange things happen when we play them and the best team hasn’t always won the game. Anything can happen.”
This is Friday Night Lights at its best, complete with Royalty and Black Cats.
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