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 Panthers Fumble Away Ball, Game at Tri-Central

October 17, 2007 - If the high school football regular season finale would have been a fishing trip, the story would be all about the one that got away.

The Knightstown Panthers turned the ball over four times in the second half, twice inside the Tri-Central two-yard line, and lost to the Trojans 28-20 last Friday night. Two of those turnovers directly resulted in two Tri-Central touchdowns, while the fumbles inside the two-yard line erased probable Panther scores. The mistakes turned what should have been a win going away into one of the most unlikely losses Knightstown has suffered in years.

Tri-Central entered the game with a 15-game losing streak, including a 12-game home losing streak that dated back to the 2005 season. The Trojans were 0-8 this season and carried just 18 players on their active roster.

The Panthers didn’t do everything wrong on this night. Unfortunately, what they did was more than enough to counter anything else that was effective. A stanch defense against the run held the Trojans to just 13 rushing yards in the entire game. That’s ironic considering they scored a touchdown on a 21-yard run. Most of the other carries by Tri-Central backs resulted in a loss of yardage.

But Trojan quarterback Broc Sheets passed for 242 yards and two touchdowns, and the Panthers made almost eye-rubbing mistakes in the second half. After playing the first two quarters without a turnover, Knightstown fumbled the ball away three times and threw an interception in the second half.

The last fumble occurred after the team had pulled to within 28-20 and had driven the ball to the Trojan two-yard line. That fumble followed an earlier turnover that occurred inside the Trojan one-yard line; another fumble that Tri-Central returned 32 yards for a touchdown; and an interception that gave the Trojans field position at the Knightstown 25-yard line. That interception also resulted in an immediate Trojan touchdown.

The mistakes came in bunches, and took the team out of a game that it had no business losing.

“When we scored to make it 14-13 I really felt good at the time,” Panther Coach Bob Prescott said. “I had told the kids at halftime that we had withstood that emotional rise they would have. But we made some really big mistakes and hurt ourselves at a time when we could have taken control of the game.”

Tri-Central went without a first down in the third quarter, yet scored 14 points to turn a close game into a 15-point lead. Most of what the hosts got in the period the Panthers served them up as if they were waiters in a fancy restaurant.

The first two Trojan scores came within two minutes of each other in the first quarter, as did the last two in the third period.

Tri-Central took a 7-0 lead at the 4:32 mark of the first quarter on a 57-yard passing play on a third-and-long situation. They scored again two minutes later on a 21-yard running play that saw Knightstown miss at least four tackles.

With just over two minutes left in the first quarter the Panthers were trailing a winless team 14-0. Prescott pulled his team to the sideline and challenged them.

“You guys are just sitting there and taking it!” Prescott said. “This is not Knightstown football, guys. Let’s start playing football.”

The team responded and put together a long drive that actually started at their own three-yard line. Ethan Pearson took a good kickoff from the three and went 25 yards to the 28-yard line. That sparked a 12-play, 78-yard drive that culminated in a five-yard run by quarterback Brice Biehl. Jordan Hauk’s PAT kick, which more resembled a shot from a pitching wedge, cut the lead to 14-7.

That scoring drive was an in-your-face, five and six yards per carry grinder that featured nice runs by Travis Titus and Lane Fields, as well as a pass to Brett Morris for 20 yards.

The Panthers stalled on their next two drives, and went into the half down 14-7 despite having held the Trojans to four first downs in the game’s first 24 minutes.

On the first possession of the second half, the Panthers appeared to get their house in order. Pearson got everything started with a brilliant return of the kickoff. He took the ball from the seven, went right and then cut back left. Pearson zigzagged his way down to the Tri-Central 34-yard line, returning the kickoff 59 yards.

Despite hurting themselves with a holding call and subsequent 10-yard penalty, the Panthers still scored on the series when Biehl hit Morris with another 20-yard strike at the 9:13 mark of the third quarter. They missed the PAT, but still had cut the lead to 14-13 with 21 minutes of game still to be played.

That’s when the Panther ship suddenly pulled a metamorphosis into the Titanic.

Knightstown’s next four drives were a disaster of major proportions. Combined, the next four series’ ran by the Panthers included just 12 plays, three turnovers, 27 yards of offense and 14 points for the Trojans. That quickly, the momentum of scoring 13 unanswered points was tossed out and the team was staring at a 28-13 deficit.

After the Panthers cut the lead to 14-13, they immediately forced a three-and-out by the Trojans. Getting the ball back with a chance to take the lead, Knightstown instead delivered a gift to the Trojans. On the exchange between Biehl and Fields, the ball was momentarily bobbled, and Tri-Central’s Andy Hensley was there to snatch the ball out of the air. He rambled 32 yards in the other direction for a touchdown and a 21-13 Trojan lead.

On the next possession, Knightstown turned the ball over on an interception at its own 25-yard line. Sheets needed just two plays to find Huddleston on a 27-yard touchdown pass. Instead of trailing 14-13 and driving for a score to take the lead, Knightstown found itself down 28-13 just two minutes later.

But the Panthers responded to the challenge again, refusing to quit.

“I didn’t think we played our worst game of the year,” Prescott said. “But we are still in that mode of making turnovers at the worst of times. We didn’t cave in when those bad things happened and I’ve been around teams that have done just that. The kids battled back, and that’s a tribute to them. But we’ve got to cut down on the mistakes, and we’ve got to learn from the ones we have been making.”

Knightstown got the ball back near the end of the third quarter when Aaron Forshey and Justin Sanders had back-to-back quarterback sacks. Tri-Central’s punt was returned brilliantly by Biehl to the Trojan 35, setting up the Panthers in excellent field position.

An 18-yard run by Biehl was followed by a 12-yard pass to Drew Martin to the Trojan three-yard line. But on the next play, Knightstown fumbled the ball again, and Tri-Central recovered at the ½-yard line. The Panthers still weren’t finished. They got the ball back when Kelton Lane knocked down a crucial third-and-11 pass, and the team went on another scoring drive.

Biehl hit Martin again for 17 yards, and Fields would score on an eight-yard run to trim the Tri-Central lead to 28-20 with 8:05 on the game clock.

Needing a clutch stop to try for a game-tying drive, the Panthers at first appeared to give the game away when they were flagged for a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer. That gave the Trojans a first down at the Knightstown 40.

But the Panther defense rose to the occasions and gave its offense one more shot. Morris and Cory Wisehart made back-to-back great defensive plays for losses, saddling the Trojans with a third-and-24. But Tri-Central somehow managed to complete a passing play for those 24 yards, giving them just their seventh first down of the game.

The drive was finally stopped when Kyle Freeman made a brutal hit for a loss, which forced a fourth down, and Biehl knocked down the pass to turn the ball back over to Knightstown.

With just 3:31 showing on the clock, the Panthers needed 69 yards and a two-point conversion to tie the game and force overtime. Biehl immediately went to the air and found Pearson for 25 yards. He then kept on an option for 11 more yards to the Trojan 33 and another first down.

A 19-yard pass to Morris moved the Panthers to the Trojan 14-yard line with 2:36 to play. In less than a minute the Panthers had already moved the ball 55 of the 69 yards they would need on this drive. Fields took a pitch and bulldozed 11 yards to the three, but the Panthers were called for an illegal block, backing the ball up to the 15-yard line. Tri-Central returned the favor by holding a Panther receiver on the next play, moving the ball to the six-yard line. That gave the Panthers a first-and-goal with 2:10 to play in the game.

Fields took the ball to the Trojan two, and on second-and-goal, Knightstown fumbled the ball again.

The Tri-Central fans erupted, realizing their team was about to end its losing streak. Knightstown fans stood in disbelief, realizing their team had just turned the ball over for the second time within a few feet of the end zone.

It was to say the least, a very unusual game. When the final seconds ticked off the clock, many Tri-Central fans joined players behind the north end zone to gather around the large bell. The bell could then be heard ringing for the first time in more than two years.

Knightstown’s offensive woes didn’t stop at the four second half turnovers. The Panthers also ran nine plays from the line of scrimmage that resulted in a combined loss of 60 yards. Most of those occurred when Biehl would drop to pass and find himself in the grasp of a defender within a split-second.

The passing and receiving duo of Sheets and Huddleston burned Knightstown several times in the game, but that was no big surprise. Huddleston caught seven Sheets throws for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Huddleston finished the regular season with 821 receiving yards, which is a Tri-Central school record.

The Panthers will try to pull off the upset this Friday night in the opening round of the Class 2A Sectional 29. They travel to fifth-ranked Triton Central, who is 9-0 on the season.

 

Knightstown     0  7   6   7  -  20

Tri-Central      14  0  14  0   -  28

TC – Jordan Huddleston 57-yard touchdown pass from Broc Sheets (4:32 first quarter), Josh Copp kick, 0-7.

TC – Craig Upstill 21-yard touchdown run (2:06 first quarter), Copp kick, 0-14.

KT – Brice Biehl six-yard touchdown run (9:19 second quarter), Ethan Hauk kick, 7-14.

KT – Brett Morris 20-yard touchdown pass from Biehl (9:13 third quarter), kick failed, 13-14.

TC – Andy Hensley 32-yard fumble return for touchdown (7:03 third quarter), Copp kick, 13-21.

TC – Huddleston 27-yard touchdown pass from Sheets (4:49 third quarter), Copp kick, 13-28.

KT – Lane Fields eight-yard touchdown run (8:05 fourth quarter), Hauk kick, 20-28.

 

First Downs = 8 (K), 16 (TC)                                        Rushing-yards = 32-13 (K), 43-120 (TC)

Passing (comp-att-int) = 11-22-0 (K), 9-17-1 (TC)           Passing yards = 242 (K), 134 (TC)

Total yards = 255 (K), 254 (TC)

Punts-yards = 5-118 (K), 2-66 (TC)                            

Penalties-yards = 2-15 (K), 6-50 (TC)                            Fumbles-lost = 2-1 (K), 7-3 (TC)

Time of Possession = 23:17 (K), 24:43 (TC)

 

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