Knox Central scored two late touchdowns to defeat the Letcher Central Cougars, 27 to 20, in a hard-fought seasonopening game at Ermine.
The Cougars controlled much of the first half and held a 20-14 lead late in the third quarter before Knox Central was able to come back.
Knox Central won the toss and elected to receive the ball first. The Panthers quickly moved the ball 52 yards on 7 plays to the LCC 2-yard line. On the 1st and goal play, Panther quarterback Blevin Campbell threw a pass that was intercepted by Letcher Central cornerback Hunter Campbell, who raced up the sideline for a 62-yard return.
LCC running back Nathan Short hurdled a defender to gain 6 yards on a crucial third down conversion. Two plays later Hunter Campbell scored on a 6-yard touchdown run. The extra point was missed when it hit the upright, making the score 6-0 with 7:04 to play in the first quarter.
Campbell had a 27-yard punt return to the LCC 44-yard line after Knox Central went 3 and out. The Cougars went for it on 4th and 2 but were stopped short, turning the ball over on downs near midfield.
Knox Central capitalized on the great field position with running back Jermel Carton scoring a 3-yard touchdown run up the middle. The extra point gave the Panthers their first lead of the game, 7-6, late in the first quarter.
On 3rd and 8, LCC receiver Blake Brashears caught an 11-yard pass from Nick Sergent. The offense couldn’t move it any farther and was forced to punt.
On the ensuing possession Knox Central appeared to have a big gain on a fourth down pass, but LCC safety Tyler Boggs appeared out of nowhere to hit receiver Nick Martin while he attempted to catch the ball, forcing an incomplete pass.
Sergent threw a 47-yard bomb to Campbell on a key fourth down to extend the LCC drive. Running back Cameron Whitaker then had a 16-yard gain on a tough run up the middle. On 3rd and goal, Sergent scrambled past two defenders and dove just inside the pylon for the touchdown. The two-point conversion was no good but the Cougars retook the lead 12-7.
Letcher Central defensive lineman Sam Mullins sacked Blevin Campbell and forced a fumble recovered by lineman Jon Sergent right before halftime to maintain the LCC lead heading into the break.
A 42-yard kickoff return by Hunter Campbell was negated by a holding penalty on the first play of the third quarter. The LCC offense sputtered and Knox Central took over at the LCC 39-yard line after a short Cougars punt.
Knox Central made an adjustment coming out of halftime and inserted a fullback into its offensive sets and went to more of a power run game as opposed to the throwing spread offense the Panthers ran in the first half. The change quickly paid dividends with Carton scoring a 7-yard run. The score was 13-12 midway through the third quarter after the extra point was no good.
Short had an impressive 25-yard run to get the next LCC possession started. Then Jon Sergent had an 11-yard run on a counter play. On 3rd and 5, Nick Sergent eluded a pass rusher and then dumped a pass off to his brother Jon for a 17-yard gain. Nathan Short capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with some nice blocking from the offensive line. Hunter Branham made a phenomenal catch over two Knox Central defenders for the two-point conversion to give LCC a 20-13 lead.
Knox Central regained the lead quickly on an 8-yard touchdown run by Carton, his third score of the game. The two-point attempt was successful to make the score 21-20 in favor of the visitors heading in the fourth quarter.
Sergent found Campbell on a drag route for a 23-yard gain on 3rd and 9. Then on 3rd and 3, Sergent gained 6 yards on a quarterback draw. The offense sputtered once it got close to the goal line and on 4th and goal from the 9-yard line, LCC chose to try a field goal. The kick was no good and landed in the field of play where Knox Central scooped up the ball and returned the kick to near midfield.
Ethan Mills scored on a 14-yard run to put Knox Central ahead 27-20 with 4:33 left in the game.
Letcher Central was intercepted by Dane Imel in what appeared to be a game clinching play with just over 2 minutes left. However, Blevin Campbell fumbled a snap and Sam Mullins recovered at the Knox Central 36-yard line to give the Cougars one last chance to win the game.
Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t convert and turned the ball over on downs to drop a well-played game 27-20.
The Letcher Central Cougars could have easily won the game and can take many positives as they travel to Bell County this week. The Cougars only had five penalties and just turned the ball over one time the entire game. Nick Sergent completed 10 passes on 22 attempts for 126 yards and had a rushing touchdown. Hunter Campbell had an explosive night, catching 3 passes for 74 yards. Campbell also had a rushing touchdown and a couple of really good kickoff returns. Nathan Short gained 48 yards on 12 carries including a 2-yard score. Jon Sergent and Cameron Whitaker ran for 27 yards apiece. Blake Brashears had 2 receptions for 16 yards.
The Letcher Central defense played a solid game. Jon Sergent led the defense with 12 tackles from his middle linebacker position and recovered a fumble. Leyton Polly added 9 tackles and Sam Mullins had a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery for the Cougars.