The Cumberland Gap Panthers played host to the Claiborne Bulldogs in the annual edition of their rivalry football game. It was a cool evening for football, but fans had their eyes to the sky due to the rain that was predicted by game’s end. The Panthers came in with an 0-2 record and the Bulldogs had an even record at 1-1.
Cumberland Gap was set on breaking the six game winning streak of the Bulldogs. The game was great from the start as both teams emptied their buckets on the field. A fast Panthers start shocked fans in attendance, but in the end the Bulldogs celebrated the 57-40 win.
The Panthers elected to receive the opening kick and Ethan Ellison ran down to the Bulldogs 34-yard line. The Panthers went to the air a few plays later and scored the first TD of the game, but failed to kick the extra point attempt. Bryce Rogers quickly found the football on the ensuing kickoff to give his offense the ball back on the 37-yard line.
A mix of passes and runs that included Adam Jenkins kept the Panthers moving the chains. Ellison hit Preston England for a TD covering over 20 yards to increase the Panthers lead to 14-0 after a successful two-point conversion.
Jake Butler began a big night of rushing the football for Claiborne. Blake Cupp guided the offense for the Bulldogs down the field until Jenkins stepped in front of a pass intended for Hunter Rosenbalm at the 6:22 mark in the opening quarter. Everything the Panthers tried offensively at that point in the game was effective. Lukas Neely made a few plays to slow down the Panthers attack, but England caught a pass from Ellison and took it the distance for the third Panthers score of the game. The conversion failed and the lead was extended to 20 with 2:40 left on the first quarter clock.
On the kickoff, Ty Stone made a great return of over 60 yards to set the Bulldogs up for their first score. Butler went up the middle to get the Bulldogs on the scoreboard. It was then 20-7 after the extra point.
The Panthers responded with the arm of Ellison, when he connected first with Jenkins and then England for the third time for another touchdown. Ellison completed the two-point conversion and the Panthers led 28-7 with under two minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Bulldogs fumbled on their next possession — giving the ball back to the Panthers on the 30-yard line. Stone grabbed an Ellison pass down in the end zone that stopped the Panthers’ momentum.
A Cupp to Cupp pass ended the first quarter. England got the momentum back for the Panthers during a career game with an interception at the start of the second quarter. Two plays later, the Bulldogs recovered a Panther fumble and were looking to add to their scoring total. Dakota Sweat began running the ball straight up the middle, which softened the Panthers defense by adding a new dimension to the Bulldogs’ offense. Isaac Fugate made a reception across the middle that set the Bulldogs up in the red zone; however, the excitement was short-lived when the Bulldogs dropped the ball going into the end zone a few plays later that the Panthers recovered.
Claiborne scored on a trick play of sorts that caught the Panthers off guard just as the half had ended. Butler was again on the end of another Bulldogs scoring drive. At the half, the score was 28-14 in favor of the Panthers. The sky began to light up in the distance and sprinkles began to fall before the two teams took the field for the second half. The lightning stayed away and the game resumed without delay.
Butler scored on long play covering over 55-yards making the score 28-21 after the extra point went through the uprights. The Bulldogs defense finally woke up and the game changed almost instantly. A bold call by Bulldogs head coach Jerton Evans gave the Bulldogs four more downs when all around thought the Bulldogs would punt. Butler rewarded his coach with a 73-yard touchdown run with four left minutes in the third quarter- his fourth. The score was tied at 28.
A squib kick was then recovered by the Bulldogs but once again England rose up and intercepted another pass to give the Panthers offense another try. The next drive was a success as the Panthers until a pass was intercepted by Cupp on the goal line. On offense the Bulldogs’ Rosenbalm escaped down the sidelines for 41-yards and the Bulldogs were looking to take the lead. Blake Cupp scored a few plays later to take their first lead of the game at 35-28.
The Panthers responded with a pass completion covering around 55-yards at 8:15 in the final quarter. After the kick, the score was 35-34 after the Panthers failed on the conversion try. Butler reached pay dirt again with another touchdown run and gave the Bulldogs a 42-34 lead. With rain starting to fall heavily, Isaiah Cloud got two sacks on the Panthers next series helping the Bulldogs to deny the Panthers another score.
Sweat then scored on a short run pushing the Bulldogs lead out to 50-34. Butler was not done yet, he added yet another score to give the Bulldogs an almost insurmountable lead at 57-34 with 3:38 left on the game clock. An Ellison to Brandon Helton pass took the Panthers scoring total to 40 points. The score would not change any more as the Bulldogs were able to get a huge comeback win at the home of the Panthers by the final score of 57-40. Jake Butcher ended up with 227 yards rushing on 19 attempts with four TD’s, 117 yards via the passing game and two more TD’s. Butler’s total offensive output was an astounding 344 combined yards and six touchdowns. Butler had a rushing average of nearly 12-yards per carry.
After the game, coach Evans gave credit to coach Cory Russell by saying, “Hats off to coach Russell he had his team more prepared coming in than we did. I’m very happy for my kids and love them to death. Our kids finally decided to get the blocks that coach Shipley had been teaching them.”
Coach Russell spoke about his team’s quick start, “Well we started the game doing our jobs. We were playing well but we were not doing anything special, just doing our jobs.” When asked about England’s career game he stated, “Preston is a good ball player for us. He does his job well, runs good routes and is an athletic kid. He done a great job.” When asked what his team needs to do to better themselves he added, “We just have to become more mentally strong and cut out our mistakes and do our jobs.”
With the win, the Bulldogs improve to 2-1 and the Panthers fall to 0-3 on the season. The Bulldogs win streak now sets at seven wins over their cross-river rival.
Reach Allen Earl at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @pitchadude.