Following a tough 48-28 loss to the Carter High School Hornets on Friday night, Lenoir City High School head football coach Jeff Cortez gathered the team near midfield and reminded the players of a Bible verse close to his heart.
Since last season, the Panthers’ go-to Bible verse has been Galatians 6:9, which states, “And let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Cortez complimented the Panthers’ effort in going toe-to-toe with a highly athletic Carter team.
“I think in terms of execution, we’re getting better and better no matter what the scoreboard says,” he said. “With our guys, it’s never about not having enough effort. Our fans are standing at the gate clapping for them, and that’s never about effort with us. We’re just struggling a little bit with some execution things. I’m proud of our effort, and there’s nothing wrong with that part of it. They looked so dang good at times and played at a high level, and you know, it hurts to see the tears from some of the guys. It hurts to see that their effort isn’t rewarded. That’s why I encouraged them with Gal. 6:9 — don’t stop doing good. We’re going to reap a harvest here soon.”
The Panthers received the opening kickoff and struck first when junior Zane Ward capped a 13-play drive from 2 yards on fourth down to give Lenoir City an early 7-0 lead.
The Hornets responded after returning the ensuing kickoff the Panthers’ 20-yard line to help set up what would be a 20-yard touchdown run by Max Bailey to tie the game at 7-7. The Hornets scored again to go up 14-7 to start the second quarter.
Lenoir City freshman quarterback Brett Cortez then delivered a touchdown pass to senior Xavier Patrick on 4th and 10 to knot the score at 14-14.
The Panthers threatened to take the lead when Carter’s defense came away with a 90-yard pick-six with just under one minute remaining the half. However, Lenoir City answered back nearly 40 seconds later with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown by freshman Trey Wilhite to tie the game at 21-21 at halftime.
“We finally get an opening kickoff and go 13 plays and score, so I mean that is about how you draw it up,” Jeff said. “It’s 14-14 with 1:15 left in the half, and we throw the pick and they take the lead. Then we get that pick back and score, so it’s 21-21 at half. I love (Brett) tremendously, but right there at the end of the first half ... he made so many good plays in that first and second quarter, keeping his feet moving and just pinpoint accuracy, getting us first downs. Then just that moment, he looked like a freshman with 1:15 left. I got after him after that because you can’t think it’s fourth down when it’s third.”
The Hornets dominated the second half offensively with three touchdowns and two field goals before the Panthers managed to add one more score with an 11-yard run by Ward.
Despite the outcome, Jeff was pleased with the team’s effort and is shifting his focus to Rhea County.
“We had multiple ball carriers last week and well over 100 yards rushing last week,” he said. “I felt we did a good job again up front and we ran the ball effectively, so that obviously helps our young quarterback when we can run the ball well and can work off of play action. I’m proud of our guys and their effort moving forward. We’ve got another region game, which is going to be a tough, physical game with Rhea County. We’ve got to get ourselves healthy and ready to go.”