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Having to ride on a bus for more than three hours to take on a district champion won’t be the easiest task at 7:30 p.m. Friday for the Elizabethtown Panthers.
But what the visiting Panthers (1-9) actually have in their favor when they take on the Bell County Bobcats (8-2) in the first round of the Class 3-A state playoffs is pretty simple: Overconfidence.
“Shoot, I think last year in the fourth quarter, they sent their starters in the locker room, so when the game was over, they left their JV team out there to shake hands with us,” second-year Elizabethtown coach Adam Billings said after Monday afternoon’s practice.
The Bobcats – who are ranked fourth in 3-A in this week’s Associated Press poll – are riding an 11-game home winning streak, which includes a 66-0 thrashing of the Panthers in the first round of last year’s postseason.
Elizabethtown had 175 passing yards in last year’s meeting with the Bobcats, but the Panthers had minus-33 rushing yards.
“We’re a different team this year and if we play like we’re supposed to and do everything we’re supposed to, I think we have a chance to win,” said Elizabethtown senior defensive back Chase Chapman, who has a team-high three interceptions.
Not many visiting offenses have had a chance against the Bobcats, who haven’t allowed a road team to score more than two touchdowns since a 63-20 pounding of Middlesboro on Sept. 2 – of last year.
Facing an Elizabethtown team which has dropped nine straight, played seven quarterbacks and been held to a touchdown or less in four consecutive games, the Bobcats would have several good reasons to be thinking ahead to next week’s possible region semifinal home game with District 4 rival Corbin or District 3 runner-up LaRue County.
“I’m not speaking for them, but I wouldn’t think they’re really expecting much (from us). And if you look at our final scores from this year, that’s justified,” Billings said. “But it’s not about the final scores because we’ve been improving every week and we’ve had guys getting after it.”
Elizabethtown is coming off a 47-6 loss last week to Glasgow in what was the last scheduled game in the 56-year history of Elizabethtown’s historic Doug Smith Memorial Stadium. The Panthers are slated to move into an on-campus turf stadium in time for the 2013 season.
With less than 5 minutes left in the first half, the Panthers were still within a touchdown of the 2-A Scotties, who are ranked eighth by the AP.
“We forced Glasgow to drive on us Friday night,” Billings said. “We had a couple of drives stall. But we had an interception and a couple of turnovers. So we’re putting ourselves in position defensively and improving vastly. Offensively, we’ve had new guys in new positions every week, but the last two weeks, we’ve took the opening drive right on out and scored.”
Bell County is coming off a 40-37 loss at Harlan County, which is ranked 10th in 5-A by the AP. The game was the first at Harlan County’s new Coal Miners’ Memorial Stadium.
The Bobcats enter Friday averaging 35.9 points and 353.2 yards per game. Senior Jonathon Polly has rushed for 14 touchdowns and leads the team in carries (162) and rushing yards (1,467), while senior Ryan Collett has rushed for 899 yards and a team-high 19 touchdowns on 114 carries. Freshman quarterback Peyton Collett averages less than eight passing attempts per game, but he has still thrown for 529 yards and six touchdowns.
“They’re going to run the ball straight at us, so we have to play physical,” said senior Josh Williams, who leads the Panthers in touchdowns, rushing yards and tackles. “It could possibly be the last game, so we need to play physical and step up.”