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 Panthers Facing Tall Task Against Triton Central

October 17, 2007 - Common sense would say that Knightstown, 4-5 on the season and losers of four of their last six games, would not stand much of a chance going against Triton Central (9-0) this Friday night in the first round of the Class 2A high school football sectional.

But then again, very little about this maddening football season has made sense.

A quick look at the resume of the Panthers this season would make anyone shake their head, rub their eyes and take a second look.

The best team, record-wise, on the Panther schedule has been Centerville. The Bulldogs are considered one of the top teams in Sectional 29. They have handled the bulk of their schedule with relative ease, and have won eight straight games. The only loss the Bulldogs have suffered was to Knightstown.

Knightstown, meanwhile, boasts a resume that includes that win over 8-1 Centerville, and losses to Eastern Hancock and Tri-Central, both of whom finished 1-8. How many times in Indiana High School football history has a team handed another its only loss, and given two others their only win?

Probably never.

It’s truly been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde season for the Panthers.

If Knightstown is to compete against Triton Central Friday night, the Panthers will have to eliminate the turnovers that have been plaguing them all season long. Had the team not turned the ball over four times in the second half against Tri-Central, they would have won by two or three touchdowns. Those four turnovers directly resulted in 14 points for the Trojans, took a minimum of two scores away from the Panthers.

With fullback Trey McColley likely returning to the Panther lineup Friday night, Coach Bob Prescott is hoping his team can secure the ball and eliminate at least some of the mistakes.

“We can’t have any turnovers,” Prescott said. “Triton Central has an explosive offense and skill players at a lot of positions. We’ve got to have a ball-control offense and chew some time up. We have to finish drives, which we’ve struggled with all season long. Our third and fourth down conversion rates have been awful all season.

“We have the ability to do some things that can counter what we know they are going to do. It’s a matter of being consistent with that and of each player being accountable.”

The biggest problem the Panthers have had this season centers on turnovers. In the second half against Tri-Central, Knightstown fumbled the ball three times and threw an interception. The result of those turnovers was a 28-point turn in the game, which was the difference in winning the game by three scores or losing.

On the season, Knightstown had turned the ball over 27 times in just nine games. The team has fumbled the ball 44 times, losing 21, and has been intercepted six times.

Triton Central hasn’t had a great deal of success in post-season play. They are 3-10 in sectional games over the last 10 years. The Tigers are trying to re-establish their football tradition, but haven’t fared all that well. The last sectional title they won occurred in 1988.

The Tigers went undefeated last season, but lost in the first game of the sectional. Over the last 10 years, two of those three sectional wins have come against Union County, a team that has won just four sectional games over the past 10 years, and has lost seven straight.

Knightstown has fared much better in the postseason. Over the last 10 seasons, the Panthers have been to the RCA Dome twice and compiled a postseason record of 18-10.

Of course, those teams have no bearing on this year’s game.

Triton Central has an aggressive defense that is led by a linebacking corps that is a punishing group and takes pride in that fact. The names of Evan Beck, Ben Mohr, Aaron McBride and Garrett Prutt have been announced repeatedly on PA systems this season. They have ended the season for a few ball carriers this year, and are in on most of the tackles on any given night.

The Tiger all-around game is strong. Sophomore kicker Bryan Sullivan has booted 40 extra points this season, while running back Drew Garrison has scored 20 touchdowns, which is more than Knightstown’s entire team.

In last week’s season finale against Milan, the Indians focused on stopping the Tiger running game, which consists primarily of Garrison and Beck, who have combined for nearly 1,500 yards on the ground this year. Triton Central quarterback Jordan Martin responded to that by throwing for a school-record 335 yards. Receivers Derek Johnson and Pritt both had over 100 receiving yards. That just shows the Tigers can put up big numbers in a variety of ways, and will likely try to exploit Knightstown’s secondary in a manner similar to what Tri-Central did last week.

Winning Friday night will be a tall task, but it’s not impossible.

“We can’t control our opponent,” Prescott said. “All we can do is go out there and play our best game of the year. It doesn’t matter if we would have drawn a 1-8 team or a 9-0 team. We have to play our best game of the year.”

The teams have two common opponents. The Tigers have defeated Eastern Hancock (34-14) and North Decatur (61-21). Knightstown lost to the Royals 20-6 and to the Chargers 34-7.

Knightstown and Triton Central have not met on the gridiron since the days of the Big Blue River Conference. The last game between the two schools was played in 1989, and the Panthers lead the all-time series 12-8.

Out for the sectional game will be quarterback Joe Haase, who has played sparingly in just two games this season. Also out are Danny Ortman and Levi Blair. Sophomore Anthony Forshey is listed as questionable and fullback Trey McColley is listed day-to-day.

McColley’s return to the lineup would give the Panthers an offense boost and help on converting third down situations, but his overall impact will be minimal if the Panthers can’t eliminate the turnovers.

 

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