The record books will show that the Knoxville Panther football team finished its season with a losing record, but if you ask Coach Troy Rider, the growth he has seen in his players, on and off the field, indicates the strength and maturity of winning young men.
The Panthers wrapped their 2012 campaign on the road with a 19-13 loss to the Oskaloosa Indians. On what threatened to be a cold, windy and drizzly night, the weather cleared for Oskaloosa's Senior Night and the varsity game.
Oskaloosa's opening drive did not go very far and were forced to punt. The Panthers took over on their own 45 and drove down to the Oskaloosa 20. Tanner Dunkin missed the field goal attempt.
The offenses for both teams struggled for much of the first quarter. Mistakes by the Panther defense and special teams, in the form of penalties, assisted the Indians' late in the first to set them up with a first and goal on the five to start the second.
It did not take long for Nate Van Veldhuizen, the sophomore running back for Oskaloosa, to take it in for the first score of the night. Following the extra point, Oskaloosa's advantage over the Panthers was 7-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, Knoxville's Ryan Douglas took off for one of many fine kick returns he had on the night, taking the ball down to the 35. Unfortunately, the Panthers could not get the ball downfield and were forced to punt.
The Indians' offense did not have much success either, compliments of a tough Panther defense. Oskaloosa got it together, late in the quarter once again, to reach the end zone on the legs of Mason Wisse. The Panthers blocked the extra point attempt, leaving the score at 13-0 with 22 seconds left in the half.
Knoxville came out fighting after halftime. Douglas got the drive started with a nice kickoff return. He ended it by catching a touchdown pass from Gerritt Davis to put the Panthers on the board. The PAT was missed, but the Panthers were on the board, 13-6.
Defense held Oskaloosa to a three-and-out. With the ball back in their hands, the Panthers threatened to strike once again, until a Davis pass was intercepted in the end zone. A short return placed the Indians on the Knoxville 10. Oskaloosa did not capitalize on the takeaway and the third quarter ended with the score still at 13-6.
Early in the fourth, the Indians' offense again showed signs of life. Wisse scored his second touchdown of the night to make the score 19-6.
Knoxville's offensive struggles continued, but they never gave up. With less than a minute left in the game, Davis attempted a pass in the end zone to Dunkin, which was ruled out of bounds by the officials. After losing precious seconds on that play, the Panthers had one more shot. Davis successfully connected with Douglas once again to bring the score to 19-13, following the extra point.
With less than 20 seconds left in the game, the Panthers' onside kick was unsuccessful. Oskaloosa retrieved it, took a knee and the team earned its second win of the season.
After the game, Rider told his disappointed team how much he cared about them, and how proud he was of the improvement they had shown this season. Not only as football players, but as young men. The emotional Panthers, including the coaching staff gathered one last time on the field with their helmets in the air to celebrate the season.
Rider said his team's offense and defense struggled to get started. He complimented Oskaloosa on their play. His overall thoughts on the game and the season were positive.
“I'm more proud of the strides they've made as young men,” Rider said. “These kids have come a long way. They've been through a lot of rough times and a lot of that, they've put themselves through. To see the growth that they've had over the last couple of years has inspired me to be a better coach and a better man. I'm proud to coach them.”