KNOXVILLE — The first couple of possessions were detrimental for Knoxville and North Polk made them pay as they Comets spoiled the Panthers’ homecoming with a 48-21 win on a chilly October night at Ken Locke Stadium.
Although there was no precipitation in Knoxville on Friday night, it was certainly raining penalty flags with both teams getting their share of calls against them.
“Those penalties and turnovers, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing the worse team in the state,” Knoxville head coach Eric Kellar said. North Polk’s a good team, people who just look at the records, they’ve played the same teams we’ve played and they’re playing them fairly close. We knew they’d be good and well coached but I loved the way our guys battled.”
Knoxville committed two penalties on North Polk’s opening drive which resulted in a one-yard touchdown from bell-cow running back Thomas Jones.
It was the first of four rushing touchdowns on the night for Jones, who Knoxville had a tough time slowing down. North Polk’s senior running back would run for 221 yards on 28 carries on the night.
The Panthers’ first possession resulted in a three-and-out but a high snap went over punter Tyler Kearney’s head and into the end zone to be recovered by North Polk to quickly put the Comets ahead 14-0.
North Polk struck again on a Knoxville mistake on the very next drive with the Panthers fumbling on the first play.
Jones found the end zone three plays later to put North Polk ahead 20-0 just five minutes into the game.
Knoxville was chasing from there. They were able to put together a strong end of the first quarter and were able to get on the board early in the second.
A long drive resulted in a Gavin Montalvo one-yard rushing touchdown to cut the deficit to 20-7 early in the second quarter. Montalvo was Knoxville’s leading rusher in the game with 96 yards on nine carries.
Knoxville followed up by forcing a three-and-out but would forfeit the momentum they gained by fumbling the ball back to the Comets.
North Polk took advantage of the short field and converted a crucial fourth down on their way to another Jones rushing touchdown.
Knoxville had two more good chances to score before halftime but would turnover it over both times in plus territory.
The first time was North Polk stuffing Kieren Nichols on fourth and short, which turned into seven more points for the Comets the other way.
The Panthers were then threatening on North Polk’s 12-yard line before an interception would send Knoxville to halftime trailing 34-7.
North Polk put the game on ice early in the third quarter with a pick-six to put the Comets up 41-7. The Panthers finished with five turnovers on the night.
Knoxville scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half with Keegan Cox finding the end zone with his legs before later hitting Mike Hudson on a slant with 32 seconds left in the game.
Cox’s move to quarterback was one of several moves the Panthers had to make due to injuries as they continue to battle the injury bug.
“We almost had to forfeit,” Kellar said. “We ran out of running backs because we ran out of quarters and the two of them got hurt. Then we had to put Keegan back there at quarterback, he gets limited reps every week, it was tough. I was proud of our guys, they never quit and we just have to hope we get healthy for next week.”
Cox was 2-of-4 passing for 44 yards and one touchdown against one interception as he replaced Nichols, who finished 7-of-10 for 103 yards and one interception. Their favorite target was Mike Hudson, who caught six passes for 92 yards and one touchdown.
As Knoxville will likely hit the road for the playoffs, Friday served as the last night the Panthers’ seniors will play in Ken Locke Stadium.
“They’re one of my favorite classes in all my years of coaching,” Kellar said. “They’re fun kids, they work hard, they’re competitive and they don’t quit. I love coaching those guys and I’m going to miss them when they’re gone for sure.”
Knoxville (1-5, 0-4) wraps up regular season play on Friday at Carlisle (3-3, 2-2).
North Polk 48, Knoxville 21
NP 20 14 14 0
KHS 0 7 6 8
NP — Jones 1-yard rushing TD. PAT is good (7-0, 9:15)
NP — Haney recovers fumble in end zone for TD. PAT is good (14-0, 8:11)
NP — Jones 1-yard rushing TD. PAT is no good (20-0, 7:02)
KHS — Montalvo 1-yard rushing TD. PAT is good (20-7, 11:47)
NP — Jones 5-yard rushing TD. PAT is good (27-7, 6:32)
NP — Aspengren pass to Capaldo for 34-yard TD. PAT is good (34-7, 1:45)
NP — Capaldo pick-six. PAT is good (41-7, 10:22)
KHS — Cox 5-yard rushing TD. PAT is no good (41-13, 7:05)
NP — Jones 2-yard rushing TD. PAT is good (48-13, 1:24
KHS — Cox pass to Hudson for 3-yard TD. 2PC is good (48-21, 0:32)
Knoxville Individual Stats
Passing — Nichols 7/10 1 INT, Cox 2/4 1 TD 1 INT
Rushing — Montalvo 9-96 1 TD, Cox 14-56 1 TD, Nichols 5-24, DeJong 3-19, Greubel 1-4
Receiving — Hudson 6-92 1 TD, Ramsey 2-14, Dudley 1-41
Top-three tackles — Pearson 11, Nichols 7.5, Clark 5.5