HARROGATE, Tenn. — Cumberland Gap opens the Class 3A playoffs against district foe West Greene at 7 p.m. this evening.
The Panthers (7-3)won the regular season meeting 21-6 thanks to strong defensive effort that included a pair of goal line stands and three turnovers.
Though a bit wary of a playoff rematch, Cumberland Gap coach Neal Pucciarelli says he’s pleased to hosting the Buffaloes tonight.
“I think it’s the fairest way to do it because you play based on seeds. I’m excited to get a three seed and I’m excited to be playing West Greene at home,” he said. “We don’t have to play Gatlinburg-Pittman or Elizabethton so the draw couldn’t have worked better for us.”
West Greene is 5-5, but come in having won five of their last six since that loss to the Panthers on Sept. 14.
“We played them early, they’re a young team and they’ve improved every week so it’s going to be a challenge for us. We’ll have to play a good game to beat them,” Pucciarelli added. “West Greene certainly isn’t going to roll over and play dead for us, but if we play hard it’s a game we can win.”
The Buffaloes stayed committed to the running game in the previous meeting between the teams but gained just 102 yards on 49 carries. Quarterback Austin Greenlee completed 9-of-12 passes for 198 yards with much of the damage coming on play-action or roll outs.
While West Greene controlled the ball for most of the game, the Panthers running game accounted for 186 yards on 30 carries with Wesley Nance leading the way with 151 yards. Blake Franklin added a TD pass to Jonathan Estes and a pair of short rushing touchdowns.
Cumberland Gap’s offense found their stride last week in a 47-42 win over Grainger to wrap up the No. 3 seed. They had struggled a bit in a 16-11 loss at Claiborne and a 14-13 win over Scott. Pucciarelli is pleased with his offense going into tonight’s game.
“We’ve played really well and the kids are comfortable with what we’re doing. Of course, it all starts with the offensive line and those guys have been doing a great job for us,” he said. “Looking back now, that Claiborne game may have been a blessing in disguise as far as keeping us from getting complacent over the last few games of the season.”
The winner of tonight’s game will advance to either host Unicoi County or play at Sullivan North next week in round two.