The Southeastern Kentucky East-West Senior Bowl came to Union College on Saturday and a pack of Knox Central Panthers gave locals one last hooray by leading their team to victory.
Recent Knox Central graduates Jermel Carton, Zach Mills, Jacob Davis and Caleb Swafford joined forces one more time and all turned in stellar performances in leading the East to a dominating 36-8 victory in the inaugural event.
Carton, a running back who was one of the best in Southeastern Kentucky and beyond while leading Knox Central to eight wins this past season, was his usual self in the all-star game with 107 total yards, more than double the entire West team, which finished with just 45.
Carton finished with 80 yards rushing on 11 carries, an average of 7.3 yards per carry, while pulling down two receptions for 27 yards. He scored on a two-point conversion in the game and played a starring role defensively.
“Jermel played really well,” said Knox Central Coach Fred Hoskins, who served as an assistant for the East team. “He’s working and still looking for that opportunity to play on Saturdays. And I think he’s getting closer to getting that figured out. He had a big game. He didn’t have a ton of carriers, but he had a lot of yards and played really well on defense.”
On the defensive side, Davis was a stopper up front with a game-leading five tackles, including four solos and one assists. He was rewarded with the game’s Defensive Most Valuable Player award for his effort.
“Jacob played unreal,” said Hoskins. “He got better and better as the season went on for us and played really well. He’s a real selfless kid. He never got a lot of attention because of the positions he played. It was good to see him get that MVP honor. I think he was the only kid that played every snap on both sides of the ball the entire game.”
Swafford put his name in the Defensive MVP conversation with four tackles, including three solos that included a sack of the quarterback.
“Caleb played real well for us late in the year and it carried over to the all-star game” Hoskins commented. “He did his job and played real well.”
Mills, just as he did during Knox Central’s season, did a lot of good things in the game that do not show up In the stats.
“Zach got a little banged up early and missed some snaps, so we didn’t get to see what we are used to out of him,” said the Knox Central head coach. “But he still played really well. He’s inspiring to be a coach, so it was good for him to be around this and all the different styles.”
Two other former Knox Central players were selected to the East team. Donovan Arthur is still recovering from a recent surgery and could not play. Gunner Clouse was scheduled to begin lineman school this week and could not risk the chance of getting banged up on Saturday and climbing poles on Monday.
The bowl game was organized as a display of talent from schools around the Southeastern Kentucky region, broken up into two squads, the East and West.
The East is made up of players from Knox Central, Harlan County, Bell County, Letcher Central, Knott Central, Middlesboro, Hazard, Harlan, and Pineville, though not all schools had players in the game.
Corbin, South Laurel, North Laurel, Whitley County, Lynn Camp, McCreary Central and Jackson County are the schools that make up the West.
While this year’s game was the first, Hoskins hopes it is just the first of many more to come. The Knox Central coach said the game serves many positive purposes to young student-athletes.
“It’s very important for seniors to have an opportunity to play in a game like this,” he said. “Some of these guys played against each other in junior leagues and little leagues and middle school, and it’s good for them to get to be around each other again.
“And some of them are still looking for an opportunity to play college football and this gives them one more chance to showcase their skills,” Hoskins continued. “We really appreciate Tom Posey for getting this organized. We’ve needed something like this around this area for a while. The Border Bowl use to do it but now that they take kids from all over it slights our kids from the mountains a little bit. And I think this game picks up that slack. It’s a great opportunity for all of us.”
Another major plus, especially for Hoskins, was the opportunity to coach his players one last time. He said that will always be a special memory for him.
“That was the most important thing for me, and the main reason I took the opportunity to do this, was to be around those guys again,” he said. “It’s kind of a busy time of year, but to get to be around those seniors one last time on the football field was worth the time to do it, for sure. And I enjoyed every minute of it.”