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PREP FOOTBALL: Brown era for Elizabethtown begins at Fort Knox (08/22)

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Elizabethtown won't have Cecil, Coolidge

By Nathaniel Bryan

What was supposed to be a tuneup last week for tonight’s season opener for the Elizabethtown Panthers turned into a bruise-up.

Heading north to take on the Fort Knox Eagles, the Panthers will be without three players in Coach Mark Brown’s debut. Junior running back/safety Berneil Cecil suffered a sprained ankle in last week’s scrimmage against Louisville Fairdale, sophomore running back/cornerback Mathew Coolidge was hospitalized with a kidney injury and junior wide receiver/defensive back Mikey Doolittle is coming off a concussion.

Cecil isn’t expected back until next week at Edmonson County at the earliest, while Coolidge is out at least a month. Both players were set to be the Panthers’ top two kickoff and punt return options.

“There’s nothing we can do about it; we’ve just got to go,” Brown said. “We’ll put the next two up and go with that.”

Cecil earned Area Offensive Sophomore of the Year last season as the focal point in the Panthers’ old power-I formation. With Cecil not available, seniors Daniel Elder and Tevin Lucas become the top backfield threats in the Wing-T.

“Me and Daniel, we have a lot of speed and a lot of agility, so I think we can handle it,” Lucas said.

As a junior, Elder had five receptions and one carry. He entered the season expecting to play receiver or tight end with junior converted quarterback Jack Wilson.

“It’s different than receiver, but I enjoy it more because it’s a lot of running because I run track,” Elder said. “I think it will be easier for me, but it’s different in a good way.”

Fort Knox coach Brandon Combs hates that Cecil, Coolidge and Doolittle are hurt.

But missing Cecil in the backfield means one less option the Eagles have to contend with, he said. Cecil rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in last season’s game.

“He’s definitely a big weapon for them and he was last year,” Combs said. “It seemed like he scored every time he touched the ball last year. It’s not nice that he’s hurt, but it’s nice that there’s not going to be as many weapons for them.

“But it’s not going to be a cakewalk because they still have weapons all over the place,” he added. “We’ll have to play our hearts out to give ourselves a chance to win.”

In addition to Elder and Lucas, the Panthers could split carries among sophomore halfback Isaiah Vea, junior quarterback Hunter Sullivan, junior fullback Dalonza Cates and senior fullback Thad Humphrey.

“The thing is, we’ve got a lot of good athletes on this team,” Elder said. “Berneil’s a great athlete, but I think we’ll be OK without him. Not to bash Berneil because he’s a good athlete, but I think we will be OK without him ... just for this week. Not for the whole season.”

Lucas was fourth on the team in carries last year, rushing for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 16 attempts. Cecil, meanwhile, led the team in rushing yards (1,497), rushing touchdowns (20) and carries (199).

“Those are some big shoes to fill, obviously, since he rushed for more than a thousand yards last year and was one of the only people (in the area) to do it,” Lucas said. “He’s been trying to help us out and it’s a tough loss not having him here, but we’ll try our best to fill in and do what we’ve got to do.”

One of Brown’s concerns this season was how the Panthers would react or respond to losing Cecil in the long term. Cecil should be back soon, but Brown said now is as good a time as ever for Elder, Lucas and other ball carriers to find their footing without their go-to back.

“It puts him in a little bit of a pressure spot, but that’s good because it will help them down the road,” Brown said. “It’s on them Friday night. They know they don’t have Berneil there to help them get it done — and I think they will.”

Brown announced his retirement following a 13-1 season and a Class 5-A state semifinal appearance with John Hardin in 2012. Following his one-year sabbatical, Brown enters tonight’s game making his debut with his fourth program, joining John Hardin, Nelson County and Marion County.

“It’s almost to the point that I’m thinking, ‘Have I done everything? Have I left something undone? Is all the paperwork done and the buses aligned and ready to go?’” he said. “You think about all those kinds of things before you play your first one. And then you get up there and just hope you hadn’t forgotten the balls.”

The Eagles are coming off a 2-8 season and missed the playoffs for the third straight year.

Combs, though, is eager to see how his team fares against the Panthers.

“I’m looking forward to it because, even though it was a scrimmage last week, we did a couple of nice things,” he said. “There were things we did wrong, but we got those errors corrected. I’m curious how it will go against a more-seasoned E’town. I know they’ve got a lot of veterans and some really good ones.”

Josh Claywell contributed to this report. Nathaniel Bryan can be reached at 270-505-1758 or nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com.