Russellville took another step toward a Class 1A State Championship on Friday night when the Panthers defeated the visiting Campbellsville Eagles 38-36 in the second round of this year’s Gridiron Bowl playoffs.
While likely no one expected the kind of romp the Panthers accomplished over Fort Knox the week before, the near-heroic comeback by the scrappy Campbellsville team probably had many of Panther Nation holding their breath.
Russellville’s defense was the first to be in the spotlight on Friday night. An early interception and 43 yard return by Jaylyn McMurry gave the Panthers the ball on the Eagles’ nine yard line. At 9:45 in the first quarter MJ Jones ran the ball into the end zone and, after a failed extra point, Russellville led 6-0.
As the first quarter wound down, McMurry scored the Panthers second TD of the night with an 18 yard run. Jones scored the two-point conversion and at the end of the first quarter the Panthers’ lead was 14-0.
Early in the second quarter Campbellsville QB his finds receiver for a 33 yard catch-and-run to put the Eagles on the scoreboard. Russellville would stay in control of the game, however, when only two minutes later Drew West scored from one yard out. With a run by Jason Mitchell for the extra two points, the Panthers led 22-7 with 9:30 remaining in the half.
A successful series later for the Eagles and Clayton Russell’s plunge into the end zone from one yard away kept the visitors only one scoring drive away at halftime. As the teams went to break the score was Campbellsville 14, Russellville 22.
The Panthers received the kickoff to begin the second half but were unable to protect the lead. About four minutes into the third quarter, Campbellsville QB Devonte Cubit scores the TD and two-point conversion to tie the contest at 22-22. Less than three minutes later, the Eagles score again and have the lead 29-22 with 5:30 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers would not back down, however, and rose to the occasion to quickly score. Less than a minute after the Eagles took the lead, Jones’ eight yard TD run, followed Jordan Blick’s two points after, put the Panthers on back on top 30-29.
The one-point lead would open the fourth quarter and be carried by the Panthers until the near mid-way point. With just over seven minutes left in the ballgame, McMurry’s two-yard TD run and successful run for the two-point conversion gave the Panthers a slightly more secure 38-29 lead.
As the game wound down, the Panther defense made repeated important stops. The visiting Eagles continued to slug at the Panthers’ defense and finally a 29 yard TD pass and the kick after brought the Eagles to within a field goal for a victory with only five seconds remaining in the game.
While the Rhea Stadium crowd watched a victory threatened to slip away, the Panthers held on to win the game 38-36.
For Campbellsville the loss puts their overall record at 8-4 for the 2015 campaign. This is the third year in a row that the Eagles have lost in the second round of the Gridiron Bowl playoffs. In spite of graduating 12 seniors from his roster, expect another competitive year next year from Head Coach Dale Estes’ team.
In the win the Panthers were led in rushing by Jaylyn McMurry’s 103 yards with two TDS and Joshua Bigbee’s 102 yards. MJ Jones added 63 yards and two TDS. At QB, McMurry was two for four for 74 yards. The Panthers defense allowed 219 yards on the ground and 125 yards through the air. Along with key stops along the way, the defense had two interceptions; one each by McMurry and Johnny Drumgole.
Meanwhile Friday night, on the other side of the Gridiron Bowl bracket, the Bethlehem Eagles (yes, it seems a flock of Eagles are determined to knock off the Panthers this year), continued their march through Russellville’s fellow District One comrades with at 48-21 victory over visiting Crittenden County (the week before the Eagles had beaten Fulton County 69-6).
Wins by Bethlehem and Russellville in this past Friday’s second round sets up an exciting contest next Friday night at Rhea Stadium. The winner that game will host the winner of Friday night’s game from the other half of the Gridiron bracket, Beechwood (11—1) at Holy Cross-Louisville (7-5) the following weekend.
Friday’s game at Rhea Stadium is scheduled to kick off at 7 pm.