While Bell County at Harlan County headlines tonight’s high school football action in the area, it’s not the most important game on the schedule. Both of those teams are guaranteed homefield throughout the playoffs in their respective classes. Meanwhile Cumberland Gap hosts Grainger in a battle to determine second place in District 2-AA and a win will just about ensure a home playoff game for the Panthers.
“It’s for second in the conference and everyone’s real excited about that,” said CGHS coach Neal Pucciarelli. “We’ve not been in the playoffs in three seasons and the top two finishers are automatic qualifiers. We’re excited to have the opportunity.”
He said his Panthers (6-3, 3-2) are pretty healthy coming into the game and have had a good week of practice after surviving a desperate Scott County team 14-13 last Friday. Grainger (4-5, 3-2) is coming off a 48-7 loss to Greeneville.
“Grainger is a big, physical team like Scott and this is the best year they’ve had in quite some time as well,” Pucciarelli said.
The teams have met in the regular season finale each of the last three years (both were put into the Blue Ridge Athletic Conference in 2009) and in that time the matchup has never failed to be exciting.
In 2009 the Panthers won at Grainger 26-24 on a touchdown pass with about a minute to play. In 2010 the Grizzlies won in overtime, 29-28, at Cumberland Gap after the Panthers missed a short field goal at the end of regulation. Last year Cumberland Gap held on for a 14-7 win in a driving rain storm at Grainger.
“It’s been very competitive since we came into the league with them,” said Pucciarelli.
The Panthers will try to become the first home team to win in the series.
Elsewhere tonight, the Pineville Mountain Lions (4-5) host Leslie County (5-4) for Senior Night while the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets (3-6) travel to Lynn Camp (3-6) to close out the regular season.