GATLINBURG - Cumberland Gap just keeps rolling along.
The Panthers claimed their eighth straight win and locked up the schools first ever regional football title on Friday, Oct. 21st, with a 34-14 win over Gatlinburg-Pittman.
Cumberland Gap still has a regional game remaining, the regular season finale Friday, Oct. 28th, against West Greene, but even if the unthinkable happens and the winless Buffs win, the Panthers will still be champs by virtue of Sept. 2nd's victory over second place South Greene.
The Highlanders (4-5 overall, 3-3 in the Watauga) threatened early, Jake Reagan delivered a strike to Rollie File on a slant across the middle caught at the 43 and taken all the way to the Panthers 25, and later G-P faced a 4th-and-goal from the 1. The Cumberland defense guessed right and blitzed three players on the side of the play, forcing a fumbled exchange on the handoff. Reagan was able to pick the loose ball up, but he was hit immediately and fumbled again, giving the Panthers possession at the 4.
Cumberland Gap (8-1, 6-0) proceeded to march 96 yards on 18 plays, and nearly a quarter after taking possession finally punched it in when Ryan Hoskins nailed Keith Clemons on a quick-out for a five-yard score and a 7-0 lead with 11:00 until the half.
G-P answered with a 51-yard scoring drive capped by a 36-yard high-arching bomb deep down the right side from Reagan to File in the end zone. File finished with 191 receiving yards on five catches, and his extra point knotted it at 7-7.
Clemons fielded the ensuing kickoff and raced 96 yards virtually untouched for a touchdown, making it 14-7.
After throwing an interception on its next possession, the G-P defense came through.
On 2nd-and-goal from the 5, Hoskins was hit by Highlander Zac Sutton as he threw, sending an errant ball directly to Jerrod Franklin, who held onto the interception at the 2 with 3:59 in the half.
Three plays later, Reagan hooked up deep with File again. From the G-P 14, Reagan delivered the bullet down the left side, and File hauled it in at the 40 and ran it 60 more yards for the 86-yard touchdown with 2:50 in the half. File's kick again knotted it at 14-14.
The score remained tied at the half, but the Panther defense clamped down on the big play in second.
Cumberland Gap reclaimed the lead in the third quarter as Clemons found the end zone for the third time in the game, hauling in a 28-yard touchdown strike from Hoskins. Sellars booted the extra point for a 21-14 Panther lead.
G-P finished with 274 yards in the air, but lost two fumbles and tossed an interception. The Highlanders offense was largely ineffective in the second half.
Cumberland Gap stretched its lead to two scores later in the third period as sophomore running back Brad Beason reeled off an 18-yard run.
G-P held Hoskins to just 110 yards in the air as the sophomore completed 12 of 25 passes with two interceptions. Hoskins came into the contest averaging over 200 yards a contest.
The Highlanders had no answer for the Panthers' running game, however, as Cumberland Gap churned up 168 yards on the ground.
The Panthers iced the game in the fourth quarter as Clemons scored his fourth touchdown of the night, this from 24 yards out.