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Panthers’ defense snaps skid

Panthers’ defense snaps skid
Panthers’ defense snaps skid
Corydon Central senior running back Anthony Martin attempts to push through the Scottsburg defense during the Panthers’ 28-7 victory over the Warriors on Friday. Martin led the way on the ground for the Panthers with 32 rushing yards on 11 carries as the Panthers won their first game since Oct. 9, 2020. Photo by Brandon Miniard
By Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]

Through the first three games of the 2022 season, the Corydon Central football team has shown improvements offensively compared to last year’s injury-plagued squad. The same could not be said about its defense.

While the Panthers posted a scoring average of about 31 points per game, their defense has allowed 56 points per contest. The inability to match their opposition’s production has led to an 0-3 start for the second year in a row.

That issue was mitigated when the Panthers traveled Friday to Scott Memorial Warrior Field, where they confronted a Scottsburg squad that was also off to an 0-3 start. From the opening kick, the Panthers were prepared for the Warriors’ offense; a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns propelled the visitors to a gratifying 28-7 victory.

“I’m really proud of the defense (because) we’ve been challenging them for four weeks now and they really stepped up tonight,” Panthers’ skipper Aaron Humphrey said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them as a unit. This is a step in the right direction; we took a big step forward tonight.”

After the Warriors received the opening kick, it took only one play for the Panthers to jump ahead when sophomore defensive back Logan Scharrer swiped a pass attempt from Warriors’ quarterback Nathan Byrd before returning it for a 39-yard touchdown. A kick return and three plays later, senior linebacker Hunter Schmitt added a pick six of his own as he turned another Byrd pass attempt into a 23-yard score to give the Panthers a 14-0 lead just 1:24 into the contest.

“Our game plan was to shut down (Scottsburg’s) running game, but they didn’t run at the start,” Schmitt said. “We knew that they were trying to do a trick play at the start of the game and that they had run a bubble screen when they got into a pickle, so we knew what to do there.

“(The interceptions) put a lot of energy into our defense,” he said. “We got excited that we got some good stops and scored on defense.”

Despite fumbling the ball on the following possession, the Warriors’ defense adjusted to hold the Panthers scoreless for the remainder of the opening half.

More than halfway into the second quarter, the Warriors cut the deficit in half when Byrd connected with Garrett Boling for a 29-yard touchdown pass. A Lucas Toppe PAT concluded scoring for the half as the Panthers trotted to the locker room with a 14-7 edge.

“Offensively, coverage is going to dictate things, and (Scottsburg) did a good job early,” Humphrey said. “We were in the red zone two times that we didn’t come away with points, and part of that is my fault. When you get into the red zone, you have to score.”

Whatever momentum the Warriors hoped to gain coming out of the break was quickly dashed almost two minutes into the second half. The Panthers needed only four plays, the last of which saw senior quarterback Tyler Fessel connect with junior wide receiver Wes Taylor for a 14-yard touchdown pass.

Excited fans in black and gold didn’t see the last of the Fessel-Taylor connection come the final period, when the former again found the latter for a seven-yard passing score. All the Panthers needed to do was hold off the Warriors’ stagnant offense before celebrating near their bench as they finalized their 28-7 victory.

Fessel once again spearheaded the attack for the Panthers despite a number of incompletions in the first half, connecting on 20 of his 36 passing attempts for 149 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Senior running back Anthony Martin led the ground game with 32 yards on 11 rushes, while Taylor led the receiving corps with 80 yards on just five catches. The Panthers’ defense snagged four interceptions on the night.

“Our defense came out to play, and they did a good job,” Fessel said. “Offensively, we honestly weren’t ready for (Scottsburg) to send eight guys at us. Our offense was kind of slow and couldn’t get into much of a rhythm in the first half. We did much better in the second half than in the first half.”

Not only was the win their first of the 2022 season, but it also marked the first time the Panthers won a game since Oct. 9, 2020, when the Panthers defeated former Mid-Southern Conference-rival Clarksville 57-30. It was also the best showing for the Panthers defensively, holding a foe to single-digit scoring, since shutting out Charlestown 14-0 on Oct. 2, 2020.

“We were a little sluggish offensively but, finally in the second half, we put some nice drives together,” Humphrey said. “The kids did it; they’ve worked hard and they deserve it. They’ve stayed the course and worked hard, and I’m happy for them. It was about their efforts from the offseason to summer practices to now, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Along with the timely offense and strong defense, the Panthers also won a battle of personal tension between the two foes, which included a number of chippy moments and light post-play shoving, mostly in the opening frame.

“I guess it was just a case of two competitive football teams,” Humphrey said. “We can’t get caught up in what Scottsburg’s doing, but I thought we did a good job maintaining our cool, and we got to continue doing that.”

After celebrating a much-needed victory, the Panthers will again face a team with a similar record on Friday when they travel to Eastern (Pekin). Like the Panthers, the Musketeers are 1-3 on the year but come into Week 5 off an unfamiliarly tight battle with Silver Creek, which defeated the Musketeers 55-46. Last year’s matchup between the Panthers and Musketeers was canceled due to COVID-19 complications within the latter program.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Corydon Central 14 0 7 7 – 28
Scottsburg 0 7 0 0 – 7
CC – Logan Scharrer 32 yd interception run (Bryce Gerlach PAT); CC – Hunter Schmitt 23 yd interception run (Gerlach PAT); S – Garrett Boling 29 yd pass from Nathan Byrd (Lucas Toppe); CC – Wes Taylor 14 yd pass from Tyler Fessel (Gerlach PAT); CC – Taylor 7 yd pass from Fessel (Gerlach PAT).