MOSHEIM, Tenn. — Cumberland Gap’s defense forced three turnovers and stopped West Greene twice inside the five-yard line Friday as they escaped “The Range” with a 21-6 win over the Buffaloes.
“The kids really bowed their necks and I’ve not seen us do that in a real, real long time. I’m proud of the kids,” Panther coach Neal Pucciarelli said of his defense. “Coach Russell had a really good scheme. We had a few breakdowns in the first half, but shoot-fire every time they got close the kids decided they were ready to play and shut them down. I can’t say enough about the defense that we had tonight. We had an off night offensively and they picked us up.”
That Panther defense made the play of the night on the final snap before halftime. Clinging to a 7-6 lead, Cumberland Gap watched as West Greene drove from inside their own 10 down to the Panther one on a 19-play drive that chewed up almost the entire second quarter. The Buffaloes called a time-out with 3.2 seconds to go in the half, facing a 4th and goal from the one. They elected to run for it and the play never got off the ground.
Cumberland Gap’s front penetrated all across the line and West running back Jonathan Padgett collided with quarterback Austin Greenlee as he took the hand-off. Panther linebacker Brandon Bailey hit Padgett four yards behind the line of scrimmage, Dakota Brock also delivered a shot and Jeremiah Lorens helped Bailey finish off the play just inside the five-yard line.
“That was a huge, huge stop. The first thing I did at halftime was remind them that we had the momentum. We needed to step out and shut them down the first series (of the second half), get the football back and go score. Which is exactly what we did,” Pucciarelli said. “But that was huge, it had to take a lot of wind out of their sails because they’re a relatively young football team. They’ve got a lot of sophomores and I tip my hat to West Greene, they did a real good job getting ready for us and battled us the whole night.”
Cumberland Gap took the game’s opening kick and drove down the field. Senior running back Wesley Nance, who ran for 151 yards on 18 carries, broke a 46-yard run on 3rd & long to set the Panthers up inside the 20. Quarterback Blake Franklin hit Chase Smith for 12 yards and a 1st & goal at the four. Three plays and one penalty later, Franklin found Jonathan Estes in back corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass and Devon Helton’s kick gave CGHS a quick 7-0 lead.
West Greene answered later in the quarter with a big pass play. Greenlee hit senior receiver Cameron Keyes about ten yards downfield on a little roll-out pass and Keyes did the rest. He made one man miss, then somehow maintained his balance after getting spun around by Panther linebacker Vincent Digiulian and went 40 more yards down the sideline. Dylan Gambrel made a touchdown saving tackle at the two, but Buff fullback Bayless Kinser powered into the end zone from there to cut the lead to 7-6.
The teams traded turnovers and after Cumberland Gap went three and out to start the second quarter, Helton pinned the Buffaloes deep with a beauty of a punt. Helton averaged 42.6 yards on three punts in the game and two were downed inside the 20.
West followed with that mammoth drive. The Buffaloes hurt Cumberland Gap repeatedly with with those little roll out passes, either off play-action or on naked bootlegs like the one Keyes took for the big gain in the first quarter. Greenlee hit Alex Gregory for gains of 16 and 18 yards and Caleb Julian for 13 more along the way. Despite a heavy volume, the Buffaloes never really got their ground game going. For the game they ran it 49 times for 102 yards.
The second half started a lot like the first half had ended. West got the ball and opened with two short runs followed by a 39-yard pass from Greenlee to Gregory down to the Panther 26. After two more short runs, the Panthers were ready for what came next. Nance came free on a safety blitz to take away the roll-out and sacked Greenlee for a loss of eight. An incomplete fourth down pass set Cumberland Gap up at their own 30.
The Panthers went 70-yards on ten plays to open up a little breathing room. On their first play from scrimmage, Franklin faked a quick screen to Dylan Gambrel and then hit him down the field for a 16-yard gain. Cumberland Gap went to a little misdirection in the running game with a fake hand-off opening things up for two Nance runs to pick up 20 more yards. Later a facemask penalty gave the Panthers a first down at the West 13. Franklin passed to Nance for six yards and Gambrel for four then scored on a quarterback sneak on 3rd & goal from the one. The Panther lead was 13-6 with 4:24 to play in the third quarter.
“(At halftime) we just made a list. Coach Smith made a little blocking adjustment so we could run the unbalanced play that we were using. They were taking away the screen so, we went with the fake screen and go. That kind of got us off the schneid and from there the kids got a little momentum, a little confidence and they just took it right on down the field,” said Pucciarelli.
“Our coaches did a great job with the adjustments and our kids did a great job making them on the field. I have to say that every adjustment we made at halftime the kids executed. It’s a sign of an experienced team and a sign that we recovered from last week. I thought our kids showed a lot of character and a lot of poise, they kept battling the entire night.”
The teams traded eight-play drives with the Buffaloes turning it over on downs as Brad Fleeman stopped Greenlee a yard short on a 4th down scramble at the Panther 29. Cumberland Gap’s drive stalled near midfield early in the fourth quarter and Helton’s 49-yard punt bounced into the end zone.
Smith sacked Greenlee to set up a 3rd and 12 from the 17 and West went with a direct snap to running back Nathan Morgan. He looked to be running an option play with Padgett as the pitch man, but Rusty Provins and Jacob Lorens met him in the backfield and his pitch went high and up field and right into the arms of Dakota Brock.
Cumebrland Gap took over at the West 17. Jordan Teague broke a 15-yard run and one play later Franklin again scored on a 1-yard sneak. Franklin hit Gambrel for the conversion to make it 21-6 with 7:06 to play.
Greenlee, who completed 9-of-12 passes for 198 yards, hit Ryan Smith for 25 yards and Chase Lawson for 16 more on the following drive and a nine-yard run from Morgan set the Buffaloes up with a 2nd and inches at the CG 5. Padgett was heading for the end zone with under 5:00 to go when he was hit by Miguel Caffey and Jeremiah Lorens and lost the ball. Brock recovered it on the goal line for a touchback.
The Panthers ran off most of the rest of the clock with a ten-play drive and held on for the 21-6 win.
Cumberland Gap (4-1, 2-0 in district play) has an open date next week and will host Chuckey-Doak on Sept. 28. West Greene (1-4, 0-2) plays at North Greene next Friday.
“We’re 2-0 in the district and that’s great. I’m not sure how thing shook out tonight but the number of unbeaten teams is going to keep dwindling every week so we want to hang on to that for as long as we possibly can,” Pucciarelli said. “So that was big and to come down here on our first trip to Greene County and come out with a win, I’m tickled to death.”
— — —
Cumb. Gap. .. .7. . 0. .6. . 8 — 21
West Greene. . 6. . 0. .0. . 0 — 6
CG- Jonathan Estes 4 pass from Blake Franklin (Devon Helton kick)
WG- Bayless Kinser 2 run (kick fail)
CG- Franklin 1 run (kick fail)
CG- Franklin 1 run (Dylan Gambrel pass from Franklin)
— — —
First downs — CG: 13, WG: 15; Rushes-Yards — CG: 30-186, WG: 49-102; Passing — CG: 11-19-1-83, WG: 9-12-0-198; Punts-Avg. — CG: 3-42.6, WG: 1-22.0; Fumbles-Lost — CG: 1-0, WG: 3-3; Penalties-Yards — CG: 8-65; WG: 1-13.