The Knoxville Panthers started strong and they closed out well in topping Fairfield 16-9 in non-district football action at Ken Locke Stadium in Knoxville Friday night to open the 2019 season.
Lane Bach, the move-in from Gladbrook-Reinbeck, made his presence felt early on as a linebacker.
Bach forced a Fairfield fumble that was recovered by Blaise Hubler at the Trojan 27 less than a minute into the game.
A short time later the Panthers completed the quick drive with Carter Bailey scoring on a 6-yard dive for a 7-0 lead after the PAT kick by Wyatt Darnell.
The Trojans answered with a field goal with 12 seconds left in the first quarter as Landen Schafer hit from 39.
With 1:48 left before half Fairfield forged on top 9-7 on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Carter Ferrel to Landon Kooiker.
The score was 9-7 at half and it remained that way until Darnell booted a 31-yard field goal through the uprights with 35 seconds left in the third quarter.
Earlier in the third, Nichols ran 59-yards for a touchdown, but it was called back on a holding penalty against the Panthers.
The KHS defense was steady all night long. The Panthers picked off Ferrel twice in the first quarter.
The first was a pick by Keegan Cox at the Panther 34 to end a Trojan drive.
A few plays later Darnell put the Trojans in a big hole with a 48-yard punt to the Fairfield two.
Knoxville got the ball back and a big offensive play took place when Brady Pearson took a pitch around the right end for 28 yards to the Trojan 15.
Knoxville sealed the drive as Pearson scored from four yards out with 2:01 left. The PAT kick was blocked and the Panthers were up 16-9.
Mike Hudson picked off a Trojan pass with 36 seconds left at the Panther 18.
Hudson talked about the pick that saved the day at the end. The Trojans had run a play earlier in the game and Hudson stated, “It was a wheel route and I broke on it and picked it off.”
Panther Coach Eric Kellar replied, “It was a great team effort. Our senior leaders really stepped up. Our defense played well all night. At the end when we drove the ball our offensive line stepped up also.”
Kieren Nichols was 6-of-7 passing for 35 yards and a touchdown.
Bach was the rushing leader with 51 yards on eight carries. Person had 49 yards and Bailey 37 yards.
Bach, Bailey and Hudson each caught two passes for KHS.
Defensive tackle leaders were Bach with 6.5 stops, Ben Brewster five, Ben Olson 3.5, Kyle Davis and Hudson each with three.
The Panthers travel to Saydel Friday to face the Eagles at 7:30 p.m.
The preliminary game Friday will start at 5 p.m.