For the first time in many years, high school sports fans in the area will have a football game to attend over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The Russellville Panthers will host the Beechwood Tigers at Rhea Stadium on Friday night in the semi-final game of the Class 1A Russell Athletic/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl. Kickoff for this game is 6pm (that’s an hour earlier than usual).
The Tigers will have a chore getting to the top of Ninth Street Hill from their hometown near the Ohio River and Cincinnati. Beechwood High School is in Fort Mitchell, KY. That’s three and a half hours and 238 miles away.
A bigger chore for the Tigers will be getting past Russellville. Coach John Myers and his staff will have the Panthers loose and ready to play in the much celebrated post-season home game. The Beechwood coaching staff, led by Head Coach Noel Rash, will have to keep his team focused for the game through a long road trip.
The Tigers have had fairly balanced success with the running game (total 2882 yards gained) and the passing game (total 2445 yards gained). Russellville, with its talent and speed behind a big and very good offensive line has favored the running game. The Panthers have gained 4627 yards on the ground and only 631 through the air.
Defensively the Panthers and Tigers are similar. The Tigers have allowed opponents 1857 rushing yards and 1202 passing yards for the season so far. The Panthers have allowed 1690 on the ground and 1161 through the air.
Panther Nation is knows to watch players like Josh Bigbee, MJ Jones, Drew West, and Johnny Drumgole for big plays on offense and key stops on defense.
For the visiting Tigers, watch for runs from number 17, Ethan Stringer (1535 yards this season), and number 22, Aiden Justice (410 yards).
At QB for the Tigers, number 12, Kyle Fieger has played all 13 games and passed 127 of 182 for 2456 yards, 38 TDs, and only three interceptions. That’s a QB rating of 145.
For the Panthers, Jaylyn McMurray has started all games this year. McMurray has played exceptionally well, managing an explosive running attack and taking advantage of opportunities for passing plays and runs from the QB position. Russellville has had so much success at the running game that McMurray has only attempted 44 passes all year. He has passed 21 for 44 for 567 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. That is a QB rating of 124.
The QB play may seem uneven when looking at the raw numbers. But the production from QB is close. The Tigers’ QB averages 13.5 yards per pass attempt. The Panthers’ McMurry averages 12.9 yards gained per pass attempt. Last week, the Bethlehem Eagles tried to slow a Panther running attack; they seemed surprised that Russellville’s first scores were big pass plays.
Expect a hard fought evenly matched-up game from these two bridesmaids on Friday night. The biggest similarity the Panthers and Tigers share might be the will to get through the open-window that the perennial groom Mayfield left open when he escaped to Class 2A.
In recent years, as Russellville was often halted by the Mayfield Cardinals, so were the Beechwood Tigers left holding the bouquet.
In 2014, Russellville lost to Mayfield in Regional, and Mayfield defeated Beechwood in semifinal 24-35 – Mayfield won state. In 2013 Russellville was shutout by Mayfield at Regional and Frankfort defeated Beechwood in Regional Championship—but Mayfield won state. In 2012 Russellville’s loss in the second round to Kentucky Country Day averted a chance at Mayfield in the Regional game, but Mayfield defeated Beechwood in semifinal 14-35 – and Mayfield won state. And in 2011 the Panthers made it to the second round in the playoffs, and Mayfield defeated Beechwood in semifinal 14-19, later to lose to Hazard in the Championship game.
Both teams line up opposite each other equally in many ways. This game may come down to who wants it the most.
Expect a large crowd for what will be Russellville’s last game at Rhea for 2015. One can expect a large group of Tigers’ fans to make the 2 ½ hour trip to Russellville as well.
The kickoff will be at 6pm. Come early get good parking and good seats.
Good luck Panthers. Panther Nation has enjoyed this home stand of playoff victories, but we’re ready for a road-trip; let’s win Friday night and go to Bowling Green next weekend!!