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 Panthers Will Use Centerville Loss as Motivator

They are starting to call themselves the “Mighty Mites.” The Knightstown Panthers were so undersized and outnumbered during Friday night’s season opener at Centerville that, on paper, the game looked like a mismatch from the start.

It probably should have been a one-sided football game. Only, it wasn’t.

When Centerville lined up to runs its first play from scrimmage, the Bulldogs had an offensive front line that included players weighing 230, 202, 268 and 192 pounds. Knightstown countered with a front four that tipped the scales at 185, 181, 193 and 170 pounds. Overall, the Panthers started the game giving up nearly 40 pounds per man on the front line.

At one point in the third quarter, Centerville’s front four got even larger when the coaches reorganized their offensive attack, using bigger players on the front line and moving 6-4, 210-pound senior quarterback Drew Schauss to a flanker position, having him run the ball and catch passes. At that point, the average disadvantage for Knightstown was nearly 50 pounds per man up front.

That’s a lot for any team to overcome. Now add to that the miserable heat and humidity conditions, and a team’s depth is tested like never before. Centerville went 34 players deep in the game, while Knightstown played just 17 men.

So while the Bulldogs were getting some rest with just two players going both ways, Knightstown’s men fought off the sweltering conditions with little help beyond the primary starters.

Just the thought of one play here or there making the difference in the game is amazing given those circumstances. The Panthers battled against an incredibly larger and much deeper team, and lost by just three points on a scoring drive in the final 90 seconds. The Panthers had led since the 3:49 mark of the first quarter and didn’t give up that advantage until just 1:28 remained in the game.

What a performance by a team that, on paper, had no business being in the game.

There were tremendous individual performances that showed up in the stats box, and others that occurred in the trenches and didn’t appear in the game story. Jacob Wooldridge comes to mind quickly. At 5-9 and 193 pounds, he started on both sides of the ball and was consistently giving up 50 to 70 pounds against his opponents. He paid the price during and after the game.

Cory Wisehart had a tremendous game, scoring a defensive touchdown and battling again, against much bigger players all night long. Ethan Paul, Nick Hochstedler and a slew of other Panthers fought off those horrible weather conditions, always against much larger veteran players who were getting ample rest on the bench.

Quarterback Brice Biehl somehow managed a bloody nose after a well-placed blow through the facemask. There were a few of the patented Centerville late hits, but not as many this year as in recent seasons.

The Panther offensive line had exactly zero starts between them coming into this game, yet the Knightstown offense managed somehow to gain 242 yards against a very good defensive team.

Any way you look at it, that was a gutsy performance that proved without a doubt this year’s Panthers are not last year’s team and didn’t have the word “quit” in their vocabulary.

Some of the players were sick on the bus ride home. Most were dehydrated. All were going against the odds and getting beaten up by players weighing 25 percent more. But none waived a white flag and none have a reason to lower their heads just because a few execution failures in a season opener caused them to lose a game.

Both teams made their share of mistakes. Knightstown dropped a sure touchdown pass, but Centerville players dropped two. The Panthers couldn’t convert the point-after-touchdown on all three scores, but that still wasn’t the reason they lost the game 21-18. They lost because, under the circumstances, it was a game they couldn’t win. The odds were all against them.

It’s not often that a team can walk away from a game they should have won and still find more positives than negatives. Except for the PATs, special teams were outstanding. Punter Ethan Pearson was in a zone, Jordan Hauk’s kickoffs were deep, Biehl threw the ball extremely well, and every member of the defense played a great game. Then there was that very credible performance by the offensive line.

Still, the players walked away extremely disappointed that they let an 18-0 lead slip away.

“No one quit and that was a positive,” coach Bob Prescott said. “But all of the players were just disgusted by losing this game. We have made a commitment as a team to work harder and not let this happen to us again.

“We know we are undersized and our lack of depth is going to hurt us. But we are the Mighty Mites now. We’re going to do what it takes to overcome those weaknesses.”

Prescott said the coaching staff is going to place more emphasis on proper nutrition and continued conditioning. They are going to become even stronger.

They all know that the loss to Centerville was one they let get away, and no one on the Knightstown sideline cared for what that tasted like. But the undersized and understaffed team got right back to business Monday in preparation for an invading Hagerstown team this Friday night.

“There is so much upswing to what happened last Friday night,” Prescott said. “We lost a game that we should have won, and I was just sick about how that all played out.

“But these kids have heart. They battled, they responded and they never quit. They left it all on the field and that’s what you want out of your players.”

There was a lot of hurt on the Knightstown sideline following that disappointing loss.

“Now we just have to take that,” Prescott said, “and use it as a motivator.”


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