The Lenoir City High School Panthers flashed in the first quarter Friday night against the Gibbs High School Eagles, but a pair of turnovers in the second quarter quickly shifted the tide for Gibbs the remainder of the game en route to a 49-14 win.
The Eagles struck first on the opening drive, but the Panthers responded and drove down the field with three consecutive passes from freshman Brett Cortez for a combined 39 yards.
Junior Zane Ward capped off the drive with a 7-yard scamper into the end zone to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the first quarter. Lenoir City had two more opportunities to take the lead but failed to convert a fourth down and missed a field goal attempt.
“Like every week, we had a good plan, we executed that plan and moved the ball the way we can move the ball,” Jeff Cortez, LCHS head football coach, said. “When we play with tempo, we played with good tempo right there and we play with some confidence right there — that’s the way we can play so often. Coming in, we felt we could run the ball. The first quarter was a nice quarter for Brett, and I can’t explain what happened there in the second quarter exactly.”
Gibbs retook the lead 14-7 late in the first quarter and added two more touchdowns after capitalizing on a fumble recovery and interception in the Panthers’ next two offensive series to lead 28-7.
The Eagles scored once again late in the second quarter to hold a 35-7 lead at halftime.
“The frustrating thing is two turnovers right there, and it just puts us further and further behind and makes life much harder for us,” Jeff said. “We give the opponent good field position on this side of the 50-yard line. Last week we eliminated that. I felt like we had some good run game going on and I felt like we could run the ball. Even with the fumble, we were gaining 4 or 5 yards. We gave Brett a little break there before halftime to let him recompose himself. We all need to kind of take a deep breath and recompose ourselves.”
The Panthers’ defense improved in the second half and held Gibbs’ potent triple option attack to 14 points.
Lenoir City scored the final touchdown of the night midway through the fourth quarter with a 1-yard run by Ward.
“You can’t give a team four extra possessions because that’s big,” Jeff said. “We’re not the biggest team in the world, and so those are just more body blows that our guys have got to sustain and that’s hard. We’ve got to play near-perfect football, and that’s hard to do when you’re 16 or 17 or in some cases 14, but that’s what we have to do. We can’t give the other team extra possessions and make our defense stand up to that onslaught.”
Jeff huddled the team together on the field immediately following the game and encouraged the players to stay positive as the Panthers prepare for a bye week.
Lenoir City’s next game will be Oct. 23 at home against the Seymour High School Eagles.
“For the staff, we’ve got some Seymour film so we’ll get our game plan organized and ready to give our guys some samplings of Seymour,” Jeff said. “Because we’re not going to bang our bodies really, we’re going to get some running in and go heavy in the weight room but at the same time also save their bodies. There won’t be a Friday night, so that will be the kind of general game plan for us and let us refresh our minds a little bit.”