Fall break for the Elizabethtown High School football Panthers has consisted of time on the practice field getting younger plays stepping into bigger roles more repetitions, working on fundamentals and getting ready for the regular-season stretch run.
“We’ve had a couple of people banged up so it’s been a good week,’’ junior lineman Ryan Pyles said. “We’ve been more focused this week. We had a couple of blowout wins before the bye week so this week has helped us to refocus.’’
The Panthers are ranked 10th in the latest Associated Press Class 3-A poll and are coming off road routs of Thomas Nelson (54-0) and Nelson County (61-14) before getting a lengthy break.
The Panthers open a three-game homestand against the slumping Green Wave, who have lost four straight since a 2-0 start to the season. The Green Wave also will be without junior running back Austin Oppel, among the area’s leading rushers after he suffered a facial injury last week against North Hardin.
Meade County coach Larry Mofield said it appears Oppel was being swung out of bounds toward the North Hardin bench when his helmet came off. When he went to the ground, Oppel’s face landed on the helmet.
“It was a freakish thing,’’ Mofield said. He said Oppel has head trauma, a laceration and possibly facial fractures. Mofield said it’s Oppel second head injury in the last five months. He was hit by a pitch during summer baseball, too.
Mofield said seniors Waylon Allen and Mason Burnett, and sophomore Levi Stull will share Oppel’s workload.
Meade County does get senior quarterback Trent Mofield back this week. Mofield said his son, who dislocated an elbow in the team’s second scrimmage in August, will “see some action. How much I’m not sure.’’ He and sophomore Kyle Parker will play quarterback, Larry Mofield said.
“They’re a tough team,’’ said Pyles, who starts at center and defensive tackle for the Panthers. “They’re physical and that’s what we’ll see.’’
The Panthers, who are facing their third 6-A school in six games, will be without senior two-way starter Zion Gee for the remainder of the season with a torn medial collateral knee ligament.
“We’ve had our share of injuries and this is another big one,’’ Panther head coach Mark Brown said. “He just planted his foot; that’s all.’’
Gee, the Panthers biggest player at around 300 pounds, will be replaced by junior Drew Helton on offense and Helton, sophomore Chad Doogs and possibly others, Brown said, on defense.
“He’s a three-year starter on the offensive and defensive line so it’s a big loss for us,’’ Pyles said. “He’s been a leader for us. It’s next man up.’’
Elizabethtown faces district foes LaRue County and Bardstown the following two weeks before closing the season in northern Kentucky at Lloyd Memorial.
Pyles said one of the best qualities about this Elizabethtown team is having a short memory.
“If we make a mistake we just move on and go to the next play,’’ he said. “We focus on the little stuff...the little things matter.’’
Aside from giving up 57 points to unbeaten Central Hardin in a Sept. 13 loss, the Panthers have allowed only 40 points in the five other games.
“We’re doing a better job this year of tackling,’’ Pyles said, “and flying to the football and gang tackling. We have a lot more people getting to the ball.’’
The Panther defense is allowing 268.8 yards a game with six fumble recoveries and four interceptions.
“Because of the injuries we’ve had, the bye week has been good for us to get some of the younger kids on the field and get them reps,’’ Brown said. “They’re not game reps, but it’s been important for them to get used to everything.’’
Senor running back Joseph Becherer, who has rushed for 2,221 yards in his Panther career, leads the E’town rushing attack this season with 663 yards and 10 touchdowns. Junior Camran McNeil has rushed for six TDs and 406 yards, while senior Love Grimes and junior Camden Williams each have caught 15 passes from junior quarterback Clay Games.
Brown expects the Green Wave to be difficult to handle.
“One thing you can count on with Meade County is that they’re big and they’re physical,’’ he said. “We’re not real big.’’
With key district games looming Brown said the focus must be on Meade County.
“We have to concentrate on Meade County,’’ he said. “We can’t afford to look down the road at who we have coming up.’’
This is the first meeting between the teams since Sept. 6, 2002 when Meade County won, 51-0. The Green Wave have won the last three meetings in the series.