Panthers favored at Bethlehem tonight in their fourth straight regional final
By Jim Turner

Posted on November 18, 2016 5:53 AM

Statistics and scores favor the Russellville Panthers considerably as they head to Beechwood tonight for a rematch of last year’s regional championship game in Class 1A’s Region I.

The Panthers lead all Kentucky Class 1A teams in both scoring and scoring defense. Coach John Myers’ team (11-1) has scored 563 points in 12 games, 58 more points than second place Beechwood. The Panthers have given up 130 points, four fewer than second place Paintsville. RHS is winning by an average score of 47-11. Take out their 34-7 loss to Class 4A favorite Franklin-Simpson, and the margin becomes 556-96, which averages out to 51-9.

Russellville has won eight games via running clock, signifying a lead of at least 36 points. Most of those running clocks have started in the first half. Coach Gwynne Gaddie’s defense has pitched four shutouts. The offense has scored 49 or more points in all five of its Class 1A games.

One of those wins came over Crittenden County by a 49-7 score. Last week, Bethlehem trailed those same Rockets going into the fourth quarter before winning 43-36. The Panthers beat Caverna 62-7 while the Eagles outscored the same team 75-36. Their losses have been to Nicholas County, Kentucky Country Day, Covington Holy Cross and Paris.

Coach Ron Koontz’s Eagles have a 7-4 record. They are averaging winning 28-21. They are led on the ground by Jackson Gasser, Hunter Downs and Matthew Hagan. The passing is also in the hands of Hagan, who spreads the ball around to a number of receivers. Gasser, Tyler Ohler and Sam Talbert are his favorite targets.

This is the fourth straight regional championship game appearance for the Panthers and the seventh years that Myers has coached the Panthers this far.

Rushing has been the trademark of the Panthers, especially the last two seasons. Seven players have rushed for more than 100 yards—Johnny Drumgole (808), Jaylin McMurry (696), M.J. Jones (564), Dru West (460), Damon Hales (310), Jacolbie Mason (213) and Edward Barber (166). Those seven have combined for 47 rushing touchdowns.

The Panthers have become much more pass oriented in the playoffs than they were in the regular season. Quarterback McMurry is 7 for 7 in two postseason games with six touchdown passes. His backup, Jacob Naylor, is 4 for 5 in the last two games, three of them going for scores.

McMurry has accounted for 1,340 yards on the ground and in the air during that span. He has been part of 22 offensive touchdowns. Jones has either rushed or caught passes for 19 touchdowns. His total is 23 touchdowns when special teams scores are added in.

One of the most dependable aspects of the Panthers’ offense has been the kicking game. Senior Milam Watkins has kicked 20 straight extra points in the last four games and is 51 of 60 for the season. In his career, he has kicked 119 conversions plus a field goal for 122 points. That may be a career kicking record for RHS; the 51 conversions this year surely is the most ever. His backup, sophomore Hunter McDowell, is also deadly, having hit on 9 of 11 PATs. Naylor is the long snapper, and punter/tight end Jordan Blick the holder.

Drumgole is tied for the lead in tackles with 72, including 54 primaries. T.K. Hampton is also a total tackles leader with 72, including 10 for losses. Mason is right behind with 63 tackles, four of them for losses. Hampton and Mason each have recovered three fumbles. Other Panthers with more than 50 tackles are Caleb Hardison (60), Naylor (56), Javeron Robey and Barber (55 each) and Bryson Thomas (54). Hardison has eight tackles resulting in losses.

Naylor has picked off five opponent passes and returned four of them for touchdowns.

Last year the Panthers beat visiting Bethlehem 41-20 for the regional championship. This game, however, will be at the Bardstown school.

The game will start at 7 p.m. Russellville time. It will be aired live on WRUS with John Brett Reynolds and Alex Watkins calling the game.

The winner will travel the following week for a semifinals contest at either Kentucky Country Day or favored Beechwood.


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