Panthers throttle Dutchtown in region play-in game

Panthers head to state playoffs for second-straight year

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Jack Fletcher

Sophomore running back Rico Frye scores his third touchdown of the night on a 4-yard carry to increase the Panther lead to 28-0. Frye also set the Panther record for most touchdowns, 21, in a single season.

Dylan Hynson, Sports co-Editor

Over the past two seasons, the Panthers played Dutchtown four times, twice with a playoff spot on the line. Each of the first three games has been decided by three or less points, but Friday night was the exception as the Panthers routed the Bulldogs 45-7 to secure their spot in the state playoffs.

After the Panther offense only mustered 162 yards of offense a week ago against Northgate, the team totaled 489 yards, with 413 yards coming on the ground. Sophomore running back Rico Frye carried the offensive load, as he ran for 116 yards and three touchdowns.

“I was just hitting the gaps,” Frye said. “My lineman gave me some pretty good holes to run through and I just hit them.”

The defense also recovered from last week, as they held Dutchtown’s prolific offense to just 156 yards on the night, compared to the 388 yards they gained in the first meeting this season. It was the Bulldogs’ lowest total of the season. 

We challenged [the team] to be more physical. We told them they were coming to a street fight, and they had to fight back.”

— Head coach Chad Phillips

“We had a good plan for tonight,” Panthers head coach Chad Phillips said. “The boys really executed that plan tonight.”

The Panthers came out and fired quickly against the Bulldogs, as they forced a three-and-out and then scored on a 6-yard run by senior running back Dion Munerlyn. The touchdown made it 7-0 with only three minute gone by in the first quarter. After the defense came up with another stop, sophomore quarterback Joey DeLuca set up the team’s second score, as he ran 39 yards down to the 6-yard line. Frye would score from six yards out on the next play to give the Panthers a 14-0 advantage with 6:00 to go in the first quarter.

“We changed up our routine for this game,” Frye said. “We came to the field later than normal so we could have more energy when we began the game. It turned out really good for us.”

The Panthers were not done scoring in the first quarter. On the next Panther drive, sophomore running back Nick Brown ran 57 yards before being tackled at the Dutchtown 4-yard line. The next play, Frye ran in his second touchdown of the game a 4-yard carry to increase the Panther lead to 21-0. The Panthers would not let up, as their next possession ended with a touchdown when Frye ran 39 yards for his third touchdown to give the Panthers a 28-0 lead.

“We challenged [the team] to be more physical,” Phillips said. “We told them they were coming to a street fight, and we had to fight back.”

Things were not looking good for the Bulldogs early in the second quarter as they were trailing 28-0. However, Dutchtown senior quarterback K’lin Epps made things interesting when he took a quarterback keeper 44 yards to get Dutchtown on the board and cut the lead to 21 with 7:21 to go until halftime.

The Bulldog defense also stepped up, as they forced the Panthers to punt for the first time in the game. Just as it seemed like momentum swung in Dutchtown’s favor, senior safety Matt Mullins picked off Epps to give the ball back to the Panther offense.

The Panthers were forced to punt for the second straight possession, but would keep the drive alive as sophomore punter Ryan Cockes took a fake punt 48 yards to the Bulldog 24-yard line. Two plays later, however, the Panthers fumbled, handing the ball right back to Dutchtown.

After Dutchtown punted the ball away on their next possession, the Panthers had a chance to put points on the board before halftime. DeLuca found sophomore wide receiver Brandon Rew for a 38-yard completion to set the Panthers up for a short field goal with three seconds left in the half. Senior kicker Whitaker Chu made his fourth field goal of the season to send the Panthers into halftime with a 31-7 lead. 

Sophomore safety Cole Gilley carries the ball up the middle for a short gain midway through the second quarter. Gilley had two touchdowns in the game, both in the second half.

Jack Fletcher
Sophomore safety Cole Gilley carries the ball up the middle for a short gain midway through the second quarter. Gilley had two touchdowns, both in the second half.

“Our defense played a lot better in this game than the other four,” Phillips said. “We were missing three starters in the game earlier this year. Getting those three back really helped us tonight.” 

Just as halftime was about to conclude, lightning delayed the game.  It took an hour and a half to resume the game, and the third quarter began around 10:45 p.m. 

“The delay didn’t affect us because it was 31-7,” Phillips said. “When the delay hit, we had the game in hand, so it didn’t really have an impact on us.”

Once the game finally resumed, the Panthers marched down the field as sophomore cornerback and running back Cole Gilley scored from 21 yards out to make the score 38-7 with 5:49 to go in the third. The Bulldogs tried to get something going on their next drive, but were forced to punt near midfield.

The next Panther drive would waste almost nine minutes off of the game clock before Gilley scored his second touchdown, a 4-yard run to give the Panthers a commanding 45-7 lead. The rest of the clock ran out after senior linebacker Garrett Houston recovered a fumble to end any chance of another Bulldog score. The Panthers defeated Dutchtown for a fourth consecutive time and now prepare for the state playoffs for the second straight year after a 4-year drought.

“The laws of averages are always working against you when you win every time,” Phillips said. “We told the boys that they had to be on their game because those laws were not in our favor.”

The win puts the Panthers into the number three position in Region four, and they now face Region two’s second best team, the Northside Patriots, who clinched their spot after a 35-23 victory over Lagrange on Saturday.

The Panthers are hoping for better success in the playoffs than last year when the team traveled to Ware County and lost 45-10.The Panthers will also be searching for its first playoff victory since the 2010 season when the team were state runner-ups.