Panthers shine against Sequoyah

Lenoir City High School’s Dusty Clevenger runs past defenders on a kickoff Friday during a scrimmage against Sequoyah High School.

The Lenoir City High School Panthers football team competed in their second scrimmage Friday, defeating the Sequoyah High School Chiefs by three touchdowns.

LCHS head football coach Jeff Cortez was pleased with his team’s overall performance against the Chiefs.

“I thought, offensively, we improved tremendously from one week to the next and executed very well with our first team,” he said. “That was one of the things I wanted to see the most is our offense moving the ball and scoring. They did that, so that was a good thing.”

LCHS senior Cody Wilhite set the tone early for the scrimmage when he intercepted SHS quarterback River Jenkins one-handed and returned the interception 25 yards for the Panthers’ first touchdown.

“It was a pretty easy play to make,” Wilhite said. “The quarterback didn’t really read the play. I just kind of baited him and sat there and picked it off. I got to the sidelines and coach Billy (Willis) was telling me how impressed the freshmen were, but as a senior, you’ve just got to make plays.”

The scrimmage began with both teams playing one down on offense, followed by a special teams play before transitioning into consecutive down-and-distance situations.

Lenoir City scored three more times on offense, with two touchdowns resulting from goal line punches.

The Panthers defense managed to give up just one rushing touchdown and capitalized on several Sequoyah fumbles.

“Once again, we caused three more turnovers, so that’s seven turnovers caused in two scrimmages, so that’s huge,” Cortez said. “That’s a thing we make a point of emphasis on. Every day, we’re working on some kind of turnover scenario this last week in practice. It’s working for us and it’s obviously something we’ve got to keep doing because it’s a huge part of the game and a huge momentum swinger. That’s our job as a defense to give our offense the ball back anyway.”

The Panthers performed better against the Chiefs compared to their first outing Aug. 2 against Clinton, especially on offense.

“It looked way better than the scrimmage before, so it looked like this week was a good week of practice,” Wilhite said. “Our line has definitely gotten a lot better. We’re running the ball well, catching the ball well. Just all the basics that you gain as you go through the summer, but also I feel like we’ve gelled a lot better. It’s looking more fluid.”

Cortez believes the defense is ahead of the offense due to experience, but has seen the offense progress in the last month with the help of scrimmages and 7-on-7s.

“We knew going into this whole year, we felt that side of the ball would be more dominant than the offense,” he said. “We’re just talking about, really, two guys returning in terms of real starters. Jonah (Rittenhouse) played some tight end, but really, it’s just two guys on the offensive side of the ball. Another thing I’m extremely pleased with is our special teams. Two weeks in a row, our special teams, I think, have shined.”

Linebacker and lineman Bubba Herrera is one player considered “under the radar” and has surprised the coaching staff in the preseason.

“One of the kids that really stepped up for us this last week was Bubba Herrera,” Cortez said. “He didn’t really get to play last year at all because of a left labrum tear, and he’s filled in on the offensive line and did very good. I was really excited and pleased for him. For a kid who missed his whole sophomore year, he’s come into fall camp and just done a great job. He had a great LCYFO, little league career, so we’ve known about Bubba for a long time. He would definitely be an unsung hero for us in fall camp, as far as I’m concerned.”

The Panthers held their final scrimmage Tuesday after presstime against Karns High School.

The final tuneup before the start of the regular season will be Friday when they compete against Meigs County High School in the second quarter of the Sweetwater Valley Collision High School Jamboree at Sweetwater High School.

“We’re going to have to monitor our hits,” Cortez said. “I could care less about winning a scrimmage or jamboree — I want to win game one. We’re going to look at hits and how many reps guys are getting. Our jamboree for us ... you know, I’m not really sure how much our ones will play. We’ll see how that goes.”