Pikeville is back in action, after a second week off, following the Hazard game. In its last outing, the Panthers prevailed over one of the top ranked teams in Class 1A, 33-27 as well as a District 8 opponent in the Hazard Bulldogs. The Panthers will be contesting one of the most improved programs in both the district and the classification and one of the brightest, young football head coaches in the high school game in Dave Jones. Jones has the Hornets playing well as they had only lost a road game to Tug Valley (WV) heading into the game with Hazard. However, Hazard, itself reeling from a loss, kind of took it out on the Hornets this past Friday night 35-7. This week, we continue our march toward a District 8 Championship when we entertain Phelps. Phelps enters this contest 0-1 in district play and, should the Hornets be able to pull off a victory, then Pikeville, Hazard, and Phelps would all be 1-1 in the district, each owning a head-to-head win against the other. That certainly would muddy up the district waters somewhat, wouldn’t it? Let’s break down this match-up by looking both backwards and forward and, at the end, we will give you our call as to how we see this resolving.
A look back…
Well, when the Panthers last took the field they had a really tough customer coming into town to try its luck at beating the Panthers. Hazard rolled into town 3-1 (at the time) and highly regarded in the classification by all of the published top-ten polls. Hazard is still very highly ranked in the classification the loss to Pikeville notwithstanding. Hazard, before coming to Pikeville, was coming off a 44-12 route of Prestonburg, having only lost to Class 2A power, Somerset, on the year in Somerset, Kentucky. Well, it was a tough game and the Bulldogs put up exactly the type of fight we forecasted. I believe KPGFootball picked the Panthers to win the game by a touchdown (21-14) and the Panthers beat the bulldogs by 6 points (33-27), though neither defense performed as well as we expected. Still, our picking the Panthers, at home, as being 7 points better than the visiting Bulldogs, and the Panthers winning by 6 points says something of our prognosticative abilities (we would like to think anyway).
Connor Roberts, against the Bulldogs, was efficient and effective passing the football, even if his passing numbers weren’t too flashy. On the night, Roberts was 10-16 through the air for 134 yards passing with one passing TD to receiver Christian Billiter. Billiter, for his part, caught 2 passes for 76 of the 134 passing yards with Jackson Hensley contributing 4 receptions for 38 receiving yards. Billiter contributed the only TD reception on the evening, and with his TD he contributed on his pick-six, the details of which will be below discussed, Billiter maximized a limited amount of touches to score twice while only handling the football three times on the night.
On the ground, the Panthers ground out 218 yards rushing in 34 carries with 3 TDs scored. That means big Bradyn Bull Hunter and the boys were getting it done upfront. Anytime you can block a defensive front from Hazard well enough for your ball carriers to gain nearly 6.5 yards per rushing attempt, you have done something mighty special. In the Panthers’ run-game, Connor Roberts led the way with 121 yards in 19 carries with one rushing TD. Jackson Hensley gained 51 yards in 3 carries and Zack Roberts contributed 11 carries for 40 yards and a rushing TD. The third rushing TD was a six yard carry by Kyle Watkins, his lone carry on the night, though he did catch two passes.
The defense was led by Jon Collum’s 12 stops and Kyle Watkins kicked in 10 total tackles of his own. The defense had 8 tackles registered behind the line of scrimmage, being led in that all-important defensive category by Matt Compton with 2, Jesse Sparks with 2, and linebacker Connor Wright with 2. Christian Billiter, perhaps upset at himself for only corralling two of Connor Roberts’ passes decided he would catch one of the passes thrown by Hazard’s QB. Billiter took his interception 52 yards for a score which proved to be the difference on the night.
A look ahead…
Next up for the Panthers is an improving Phelps High School team coached by one of the brightest head coaches in the high school football coaching fraternity anywhere in Kentucky. Coach Jones took over a Hornet program which had been virtually left for dead only to revive it, greatly upgrade the talent on the roster, and have it playing really good football with a present record of 4-2, having only lost on the road to Tug Valley and at home to the same Bulldog team Pikeville beat on September 28. While the Panthers beat Hazard at home 33-27, Phelps lost to Hazard 35-6 at Phelps.
The key to the Hornets this year has been the way in which it has been able to rush from scrimmage. The Hornets are averaging over 220 yards, per game, running the football while passing for some 82 or so yards per outing. The Hornets have been led on the ground by Dominick Francis. Francis has gained over 105 yards, per game, and has scored nearly a touchdown and a half every time out over the course of the season. When the Hornets throw the ball, it has been Garrett Clevenger doing the passing. On the year, Garrett has thrown around 5 touchdown passes and has been intercepted as many times. Clevenger has a completion percentage .52272727 thus far in 2018.
On defense, the most noteworthy accomplishment of the Hornets has been its ability to turn over opponents and the main culprit has been QB/DB Garrett Clevenger. Clevenger has two fumble recoveries and two interceptions on the year and must be accounted for by any opposing offense. The defense has forced 8 fumbles on the year and has intercepted around 5 passes, a feat made even more surprising by the fact it has played 6 games, with 5 of the 6 opponents not known for filling the sky with footballs. In its last outing, in playing a team very comparable to the Panthers in ability, the Hornets defense allowed Hazard to gain 222 yards rushing and throw the ball for 263 yards. Contrasting Hazard’s effort offensively against the Panther defense with its performance against Phelps, the Bulldogs ran for more yards against Pikeville (285 to 222) but really couldn’t throw the football against the Pikeville secondary anywhere near as effectively as it threw the ball against the Hornets (263 vs. Phelps/134 vs. Pikeville). So, KPGFootball believes the Panthers should be able to both throw and run the ball on the Hornets so long as the Panthers take care of the football and not stop its own drives by committing turnovers.
Well no team in the Mountains has improved as much as Phelps has improved under Coach Jones. He really is working miracles for the Phelps program. However, that being said, the Hornets haven’t come far enough to enable it to compete with the likes of Pikeville. Pikeville is a program considered among the very elite programs in Kentucky’s 1A classification. Phelps lost to Hazard 35-6 and probably felt pretty good about that effort as it could have been much worse. Phelps lost 43-6 to Pikeville, in 2017. We don’t believe it justified to expect a margin much different from the differential a year ago. We like the Panthers here at home to win by a substantial margin.
KPGFootball’s Prediction… PHS 44 – Phelps 7
Join us next week as we look back at this game and preview the next match-up and give us a follow on Twitter @KPGFootball and subscribe to the on-line magazine by going to www.kentuckyprepgridiron.com and follow the prompts. Until next week, Panthers, this is Fletcher Long, reporting for KPGFootball, reminding all of the ballers out there to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE.
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