Rockets coming to town for showdown with Panthers

Williamson Stadium at Burch/Nau Field on the campus of Union College will be a popular destination on Friday for high school football fans near and far as Shelby County visits to take on Knox Central in Class 4A, Region 3 semifinal playoff action.

The game, which pits the 6-5 Rockets against the 8-3 and fifth-ranked hometown Panthers, is one of the biggest in Knox Central program history as it represents just the second time the team has played in the region semifinals as the host team.

The last time Knox Central played in this round of the post-season at home was in 2014 when Boyle County came to town and left with the win.

But that was then and this is now, and there is a different buzz in the air for this game with Knox Central coming in as the favorites.

Knox Central athletic director Jeff Canady, who has been associated with Knox County sports for well over 30 years, says this is one of the biggest games he can recall for the Panthers. And the excitement is coming south with Shelby County, too, with the school notifying Canady that they expect to bring six bus loads of fans to Knox County.

And for these reasons, Canady is encouraging not just the ‘Panther Nation’, but all football fans to come help support Knox Central in this possibly historic match up.

“Rain, shine, or snow, we really need our fans to show up and support this team,” he said. “They have had a great season and are on a mission for Kroger Field. And they need our support. Bring a poncho or whatever, we hope to see everyone there.”

While Knox Central comes in highly-regarded state wide as one of the Top 10 teams in its class, Shelby County is no pushover and poses a real threat to the Panthers’ region title hopes. The Rockets are no stranger to the region semifinal game, advancing at least to that round five of the last six seasons, including the last three in a row.

Shelby County won and advanced on to the region championship game in both 2015 and 2016, missing the state title game by just one game in 2015.

The Rockets play in the highly-competitive Class 4A, District 4 that also includes Collins, Franklin County, North Oldham, and Spencer County.

Shelby County comes into the game with Class 4A’s 22nd ranked offense and 12th ranked defense. By comparison, Knox Central is 9th and 10th in the two categories, respectively.

The game could very well come down to Knox Central’s ability to pass against the Rockets’ defense. Knox Central is 4A’s top-ranked passing team with an average of 216 yards per game, while Shelby County ranks sixth in fewest yards allowed at 64 per game, according to the KHSAA website.

Knox Central earned its place in the region semifinals with a blistering 43-7 win over visiting Collins High School last week. Knox Central jumped on the Titans early and often and never let up in the dominating performance.

Quarterback Brady Worley was firing on all cylinder once again for the Panthers with 12 completions in 15 pass attempts for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

Ethan Mills turned in his usual standout performance with 144 and three touchdowns on 24 carries.

Senior Dane Imel, who led Kentucky pass catchers in receiving for most of the season, hauled in three catches for 85 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Kevionte Turner also caught three that covered 66 yards and another touchdown.

Nick Martin, Blevin Campbell, and Jacob Barnard all also hauled in receptions for the winners.

Trace Floyd led the defensive charge with eight tackles, five of them for losses. Brian Dunn and Tucker Holland were next with seven stops each, while Campbell and Turner made six tackles apiece.

Dylan Hoskins continued to provide a strong push up the middle and made five tackles for Knox Central, while teammates Imel and Jordan Phipps made four stops each, followed by Michael Bays, Connor Clouse, Martin, Malachi Myers, and Nate Smith with three each, Seth Huff, Tanner Settles, Zach Smith, and Seth Thompkins to apiece, and Larken Abner and Barnard with one each.

Knox Central was able to force Collins into four turners, three of them interceptions by Imel. Campbell also came up with a pick for the Panthers.