The Russellville Panthers kept the Bethlehem Eagles at bay on Friday night, controlling the tempo of the game and winning 41-20. The win gives the Panthers their first Regional Championship since 1992 and advances the Russellville squad to the final four of the State Class 1A Championship. The win on Friday night was the 500th in school history.
Bethlehem scored first in the contest at about the midway point of the first quarter when Eagle Matthew Hagen’s two yard TD run and kick after gave the visitors a 7-0 lead.
A short while later the Panthers tied the score. A 40 yard TD pass from Jaylyn McMurray to Josh Bigbee and a good kick after by Milam Watkins made the score 7-7 with 2:26 left in the first quarter.
The game would grind for a while tied at 7-7. Each side playing a few downs between the 20 yard lines, but unable to break a big play for a score.
Then at 3:18 to go in the half it was Deja Vu all over again as McMurry again found Bigbee open over the middle. A catch and 55 yards later, Bigbee stood in the Eagles’ end zone all alone. After the score, the Panthers line up to kick the point after but fake the try. The Eagles are caught off-guard and Jason Mitchell jogs easily into the end zone for the two-point conversion.
That would be all the scoring in the first half. Teams headed for the break with the Panthers leading the Eagles 15-7.
Earlier in the week there was some scuttlebutt about possible injuries to a few Panthers, including Joshua Bigbee. Also earlier in the week the senior Bigbee was named the Class 1A Football Player of the Year. The rumors about an injury proved to be non-issues, and any doubt as to this young man’s ability was relieved as the third quarter got underway. On Russellville’s second play from scrimmage, Bigbee dashed 59 yards for his third TD of the game, giving the Panthers a 21-7 lead and complete control of the game.
Before the quarter would end, MJ Jones would score a TD for the Panthers, and with Watkins’ kick, the score would be 28-7 Panthers over the Eagles as the fourth quarter began.
At 8:50 to go in the game, the Eagles would score to make the score 28-13. But less than a minute later, Johnny Drumgole would take a handoff and run 55 yards for the Panther TD. Panthers 34, Eagles 13.
Russellville, seeming to smell blood in the water, would continue to dominate. Less than 20 seconds would tick off the game clock before Jason Mitchell would intercept an Eagles pass. The interception set up a 33 yard TD run by Drumgole. With a kick after success by Watkins, the 41-13 score would be the final.
The Bethlehem Eagles finish their 2015 season with a 9-4 overall record and a valiant effort at Rhea Stadium, but unable to overcome the early lead the Runnin’ Russellville Panthers would get via the passing game.
For the Panthers, now at 11-2 overall, it’s another game at home next week. The Beechwood Tigers 12-1 come to Rhea the day after Thanksgiving. While the Panthers were playing, the Tigers were at Holy Cross (Louisville) and coming away with the victory 21-9.
Kickoff for the final-four match-up next week at Rhea is 6pm. At the same time, Pikeville will play at Paintsville. The winners of Friday’s games will advance to the Class 1A Gridiron Bowl State Championship Game at Western Kentucky University’s Houchens/L.T. Smith Stadium the following weekend.