Panthers close deal late, 22-13
The previous five Big Cat Classics were Big Cat Clunkers.
Friday night, in front of a packed house in Ramsey, Corydon Central withstood a third quarter and early fourth quarter dominated by North Harrison to get a stop when it most needed it.
Once the halt was made, Corydon Central’s offense picked up its initial first down of the second half with six minutes to go in the game, clinging to a 14-13 lead. Using the legs of quarterback Lannis Buck and the run game of Josh Allen, the Panthers marched 86 yards in 10 plays to score. Allen’s 20-yard scamper, combined with Buck running the conversion in, put the game away. Corydon Central ended up tops on the scoreboard 22-13.
‘The first game (versus Southridge), we weren’t able to get the win, but we needed this one,’ Corydon Central senior lineman Steven Sallee said. ‘We played harder and with heart. It means the world to me to get this one.’
The victory marked the sixth in a row for the Panthers in the Big Cat Classic, the longest win streak in the series for Corydon Central.
‘(The North Harrison Cougars) were a very physical team, and I thought our defense hung in there,’ Corydon Central coach Mike Spencer said. ‘Their backs were to the wall a couple times and seemed like they refused to let it happen to them.’
Corydon Central controlled much of the first half, but the second half saw the host Cougars hold most of the possession.
Trailing 14-7 out of halftime, North Harrison utilized a big play on the second snap to electrify the blue-out student section. Tailback Sam Best kicked out a run to the right, rolling along the North Harrison sideline 67 yards for a touchdown.
Initially, the Cougars were lined up for a field goal, but a procedure call against Corydon Central moved the ball to the 1-1/2-yard line. Electing to go for two, Best was stuffed trying to run between tackles, leaving the Panthers ahead 14-13.
A series of three-and-outs by the Panthers prompted North Harrison’s longest possession of the game. Austin Nevil, Austin Reynold and Best, out of the running back spot, along with quarterback Jack Phelps, pounded the ball on the ground.
On the 16th play of the drive, at the 10, Phelps’ pass on third-and-7 was dropped. Electing to attempt the go-ahead field goal, the execution failed without getting off the kick.
‘I thought about running the football on third-and-7 then going for it on fourth,’ North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said. ‘It was throw the ball and score a touchdown, throw the ball and kick a field goal or run twice. It hurts. Hats off to Corydon; those guys toughed it out. They hung in there, toe to toe, and slugged it out with us. They didn’t blink and got the job done. We came up short.’
Once the ball flipped back to Corydon Central, the Panthers went to work offensively. Facing a pair of third downs, Buck came up clutch. He was flushed from the pocket to pick up eight yards then later flipped a quick pass to T.J. Mathes for a big gain.
Allen took care of the game from there with a carries of 11 and 20 yards to reach pay dirt.
‘Getting that ball back turned the momentum back to us,’ Allen said. ‘I could never doubt these guys. This is my family. I’m four years with these same guys. I wouldn’t change it for the world.’
Allen would finish with 124 yards rushing on 18 carries while contributing seven tackles on defense.
‘Josh is a good, solid kid,’ Spencer said. ‘He’s a competitor.’
Allen’s touchdown put the Panthers up 20-13 at the time, and, having missed an extra point earlier in the game, Spencer elected to go for two. The decision paid off with Buck taking the snap from the gun, running left toward the goal line untouched.
‘We think we are good enough we can get half of what we do on two-point conversions,’ Spencer said. ‘We rolled the dice there, but we felt like it was a safe play for us. The (pass) was opening up for us, but Lannis has good vision. He saw that open up to the left, and he just trotted in the end zone.’
Williamson said the loss was disappointing, knowing the win streak by the Panthers was close to being snapped.
‘We were wearing them down and they were starting to cramp,’ he said. ‘I thought we were going to win the game. We missed a play here or there. Corydon has some tough kids. They hung in there when we were beating on the goal and they were tired. We couldn’t finish it.’
The start of the game was much better for Corydon Central than the previous week against Southridge when the Panthers fell behind early.
Allen had a run of 42 yards on the opening series to move the ball into the red zone. Two plays later, Allen ran off right tackle for the game’s first score.
Following a North Harrison series packed with several penalties by both teams, the Cougars eventually punted.
It was another big play for the Panthers that put them up 14-0. Buck completed a pass over the top to Mathes for a 75-yard score as the first quarter came to a close.
Buck would finish the game 2-for-4 passing for 110 yards, both caught by Mathes.
North Harrison answered with a score to cut the Corydon Central lead in half before the break. Out of the shot gun on third-and-11, Phelps connected with a streaking Ethan Hamby. The 45-yard pass and catch resulted in a touchdown.
As a team, North Harrison dominated offensive possession, running nearly double the amount of plays the Panthers ran (55 to 32).
‘On the bright side, by our stats, we had 14 first downs to their six,’ Williamson said. ‘(Corydon Central) played well defensively. They had a nice scheme going. We’ve got to be able to (get to) the tight end more. They were stunting their linebackers. The offensive line made mistakes, but they’ll improve. That’s a good O-line. It’s going to take a few film sessions.’
While the meeting was Corydon Central’s second of the season, Friday marked the first for the Cougars, who were weathered-out the week prior.
‘Not playing a first game hurt us,’ Williamson said. ‘Did it make a difference in this game? Who can decide that? We had three guys start on defense that have never played (high school) football. Deer in headlight; they didn’t get that out of their system.’
Best led the Cougars’ offense with 129 yards rushing. Phelps completed nine passes for 134 yards.
Despite giving up the yards, Corydon Central’s defense was there when needed.
‘We weren’t as fatigued as we were last week,’ Spencer said. ‘We got more rotation in this week. We got a couple big, young linemen that played on the defensive side that showed they are going to be pretty good kids. Those are the good things you like to see. We are building a little bit of depth.’
Allen, one of the key seniors for the Panthers, applauded his team postgame.
‘I knew (the Cougars) were going to be big upfront, tough and strong,’ Allen said. ‘I knew we could come out and overwork them. We’ve worked our butts off all week. Last week didn’t add up to expectations of what we can do.’
Jacob Wallot led the Panthers’ defense with 12 tackles.
Corydon Central (1-1, 1-0 Mid-Southern Conference) will hit the road Friday at Silver Creek, while North Harrison (0-1, 0-1) will host Salem.
Corydon Central 14 0 0 8 ‘ 22
North Harrison 0 7 6 0 ‘ 13
CC ‘ J. Allen 2 run (kick failed); CC ‘ T.J. Mathes 75 pass from L. Buck (J. Allen pass from L. Buck); NH ‘ E. Hamby 45 pass from J. Phelps (J. Phelps kick); NH ‘ S. Best 67 run (run failed); CC ‘ J. Allen 20 run (L. Buck run).