By Steve Woodhouse
The Knoxville Panther varsity football team finished its season at home Friday night in an historic 41-14 victory over the Newton Cardinals. The win put the Panthers’ 2019 record at 6-3. This is the first time since 2005 the Panthers had six wins in a season.
Along the way to the win, Keegan Cox set the Knoxville record for most interceptions in a season with eight. This is also good enough to place him for fourth place, among all classes, in the state – excluding what may come in the post season. The previous record was held by Randy Rodgers, set back in 1978.
“It was a great record to beat,” Cox said. The record had stood for 41 years. “It’s been a goal of mine all season.”
Carter Bailey, in his final football game in a Panther uniform, left with the greatest rushing performance in Knoxville history, with 321 yards on the ground and four touchdowns. Bailey’s game unseats the previous record set by Grant Gurgrich.
“It was awesome,” Bailey said. “I told the coaches that’s what I wanted to do. I’m glad I was able to do it on senior night. This has been an awesome season, I’m really glad we got six wins.”
Bailey got the scoring started with 10:09 left in the first quarter on a nine-yard run. Wyatt Darnell hit his first of five extra points to put the Panthers up 7-0. Newton was able to tie a few minutes later and the quarter would end 7-7.
About four-and-a-half minutes into the second quarter, Bailey rushed in for a four-yard score to go up 14-7. Newton kept the pace and scored on a passing touchdown with the ensuing possession.
After suffering a sack, quarterback Kieren Nichols turned a second and 17 into another Panther touchdown by avoiding several tackles along the way. Knoxville went into the break with a 21-14 lead.
The Knoxville defense was rigid in the third quarter and barely let the Cardinals move. With 7:39 left in the third, Bailey again broke through the defense for a 27-yard score. A bad snap on the point after attempt left the score at 27-14.
On Knoxville’s next possession, Bailey took off on a 45-yard run from the 48 to the 3 to set up another Nichols touchdown with just under five minutes left. The Panthers got out of the third with a 34-14 lead.
Nichols opened the fourth quarter with a long run down the Knoxville sideline. A penalty set the Panthers up on the seven. Only a minute into the quarter, Bailey struck again with a seven-yard touchdown run to go up 41-14.
Newton threatened to get one of these touchdowns back with a strong drive. It was ended when Cox intercepted a Cardinal throw in the end zone for his record-breaking pick. Defense kept up the pressure, as Kaleb Rowland got a sack on a later possession to keep Newton out of the end zone once more.
Nichols finished the night with 93 rushing yards. Ben Olson led the defense once more with 8.5 tackles on the night.
“This has been so fun,” Olson said. “This year has been amazing. We’ve worked so hard. This is such a special group.” He added that the team had worked hard all season and they knew they would get better. “This team makes me better.”
Assistant Coach Chris Hudson led the team as Head Coach Eric Kellar was serving a one-game suspension. Kellar was still on the field when the game was over.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” he said. “They were dialed in and very physical. It was very good to get six wins.”
Logan Clark had eight tackles, Nichols had six and Brady Pearson had four, including two tackles for a loss.
In Class 3A, District 7, Pella took the title with a 7-2 record. Knoxville’s 6-3 tied them for second with Grinnell and Oskaloosa. The Panthers finished first in the district in defensive interceptions with 15, which ties them for 15th in the state among all classes. Knoxville also placed second in the district in rushing, behind Newton.
Congratulations on a great season, Panthers!