Much like coach Scott Russell, who led Evarts to a regional title in 1990 and was named Mr. Football in 1991, the Knox Central Panthers play with a style of aggressiveness that will beat down opponents not prepared to match their physical style.
“You aren’t going to go in there and beat Knox Central if you don’t play a physically sound game and match their physical style and aggression,” said Harlan County coach Eddie Creech, whose Bears travel to Barbourville on Friday. “They get after it on both sides. They come right at you. To even be in the game against them, any team will have to play some tough football.”
Both teams come into Friday’s game with 1-2 records against tough schedules designed to prepare them for the postseason.
Knox Central opened the season with an 8-7 loss at Madison Central. The Panthers followed with a 46-7 win over Waggener before falling 34-20 last week against Southwestern.
“We didn’t play that well offensively the first game. I thought we should have scored more points and won that game,” Russell said. “Last week, we were right there and had a chance to take control of the game. We lost a couple of players, and they took advantage of who we had out. The score was 20-20 in the fourth quarter, but we couldn’t finish it out. Overall, I’m pretty pleased.”
Knox Central is considered one of the favorites in its 4A region after finishing as runner up to Wayne County last season.
“We were 1-2 at this point last year and ended up playing in the regional finals,” Russell said. “That’s the good thing about playing a tough schedule. Even though the games don’t really mean anything, I think they get us ready for district games and the playoffs.”
Knox features a strong 1-2 combination in the backfield with junior Donovan Arthur (over 1,500 yards last year) providing power running between the tackles and junior Jermel Carton (over 800 yards rushing) supplying breakaway speed. Senior quarterback Jaxon Stewart passed for over 1,000 yards. Carton suffered a knee injury in last week’s loss and is considered doubtful for Friday’s game. His status for the remainder of the season was uncertain earlier in the week.
Leaders returning on the Knox Central defense include linebacker Tanner Wells, senior nose guard Chad Henson, cornerbacks Jeremy Stewart and Carton and tackles Casey Diamond and Dale Owens. Senior guards Dale Owens (6-1, 240) and Logan Owens (5-10, 260) anchor the offensive front.
“They are a very physical football team,” Creech said. “They have a good offseason program and they are big and strong. They like to ground and pound, and until you stop it they will line and try to run right over the top of you. They are a lot like Belfry in that way. We know we have our work cut out for us. We’re looking forward to see what we can do.”
Harlan County is coming off a 47-13 loss last week at Belfry, the defending 3A state champs. HCHS opened the season with a loss at Pulaski County, the defending 5A state runner up, before rolling past Clay County two weeks ago.
Harlan County has had success at times on both the ground and through the air. Quintin Mickens, Kennon Napier and Chase Coker have led the Bears in rushing. Junior quarterback Jacob Branson had a big game against Clay, passing for 308 yards with two touchdown completions each to Tyrese Simmons and Colby King.
“They are big up front and aggressive defensively,” Russell said. “Their quarterback throws it well, and they have some kids who can make plays. We’ll have our hands full. It’s been real competitive between us since we started playing. They have a good team this year and are headed in the right direction.”
Creech said several Bears who have been injured are making progress. Senior linebacker Rhett Alred is expected to be able to play this week after missing last week’s game with an injury. Sophomore linebacker Caleb Carmical, a three-year starter who has yet to play this season due to a shoulder injury, has returned to action in practice and could play Friday. Freshman lineman Jared Creech is also back, but Creech said juniors Lamar Burkhart and Paul Stapleton were still out of action.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134