The Mason County-Fleming County football rivalry has been quite the seesaw in terms of wins and losses.
The Panthers owned the series early on under Teddy Purcell, winning 14 of the first 18 meetings between the two from 1979-1997. Then came along Dave Buchanan for the Royals and he was able to help turn the tides quite a bit, going 17-4 against the Panthers during his tenure from 1996-2014 and giving the Royals a 21-17 edge in the all-time series. It’s been the Panthers turn to flip the script the past few years, winning four straight meetings and evening the all-time series up at 21-all.
Friday, one will take the all-time series lead as the two meet for the 43rd time. As if stakes aren’t raised enough in this county border battle, the winner will have even more bragging rights.
This piece takes a look at some of the most memorable moments from the series, whether it was the first contest ever between the two when Fleming’s Bubby Lewis ran for five touchdowns or when Mason County got their first win in the series two years later when Willie Feldhaus’ 23-yard touchdown pass to Kelly Middleton sealed the deal in the fourth of a 28-13 victory.
The early years were mostly all Panthers and that was somewhat to be expected with Mason County just starting their program up in 1979. The Panthers were led by Purcell at the helm and won the first two matchups by a combined score of 67-8 over the Royals led team by Steve Butcher. The Royals were able to win the next two years in ’81 and ’82 under Lew Cook, but that would be it for a while as Fleming County went on to win eight of the next nine meetings, knocking off Cook over his last four seasons and Ben Pumphrey his first season with the team. One game Fleming failed to get is one of the most important games played in the rivalry series, the contest during the 1991 postseason.
The Royals came away with a 14-8 victory, winning their first contest over the Panthers since ’82 as Shaun Nelson’s 10-yard run in the fourth was the winning score.
The Royals are 3-0 all-time against the Panthers in postseason play. Also coming away with victories in 2001 and 2012 under Buchanan.
“There’s so many memories playing them, but going 2-0 against them in the playoffs definitely sticks out,” Buchanan said.
Fleming would go on to win the next four years after the postseason loss of ‘91 under Purcell from ’92-’95, outscoring the Royals 122-46 in those contests, but then came along Buchanan.
DAVE BUCHANAN ERA
Rumor has it when Buchanan was hired, Purcell knew what was coming. When Purcell got wind of Buchanan’s hiring, Purcell said ‘I’ll never beat them. They had the talent all these years, now they have a coach.’”
The old ball coach was right. He’d lose the next two seasons to Buchanan in ’96 and ’97, before Purcell retired.
“When Dave was hired here, I always remember him telling me a teacher coming up to him and saying, ‘Better beat Fleming’.” WFTM Sports Director Danny Weddle said.
Even though he may have beaten him twice, Buchanan still attributes a lot of Fleming County’s past and current success to Purcell.
“I still think a lot of Fleming football and a lot of it goes back to Teddy. He built a foundation and was a solid coach. Teddy was first class, always was. Teddy set the tone for them and I always felt like his foundation and his success had a long-lasting effect on Fleming County football,” Buchanan said.
The series then pretty much became one-sided, similar to how it started, but Mason County was doing the winning. After winning the first five games of the series under Buchanan, defeating Tony Roth’s Panther-led teams in 1998 and ’99 and then Gene Peterson’s team in 2000, the Panthers were finally able to get one back in the regular season under Peterson in 2001.
But then came the 2001 Regional Championship, one could only imagine the talk around both towns leading up to that game. The Panthers had won the regular season contest, 20-13 as Corbin Marshall’s one-yard run in the fourth was the winner. The Royals exacted revenge in the postseason with a 14-6 victory, Dustin Grutza hitting Chris Lofton to start off the scoring, building a 14-0 lead before the Panthers were finally able to dent the scoreboard in the fourth, but too little, too late.
The Royals would go on to win eight of the next nine contests, losing in 2004 as Fleming County scored 22 straight points to come away with a 36-14 victory.
In 2005, Buchanan felt that was Fleming County’s best team he faced in the 21 meetings of playing them. Jordan Fritz ran the Panthers offense at quarterback and they were a juggernaut that season, averaging 37.8 points per game. The Royals defense would keep the Panthers offense in check with a 28-21 victory. Ty Sargent ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in that contest.
“For me, the way I felt was, we were always the better team. I just had to make sure I got my guys ready and focused. Just get through the rivalry stuff and thought we’d be fine. I don’t want that to sound arrogant, I just always thought we had a good team,” Buchanan said. “One time I thought they were a little better was in ’05. We had a great game plan. To me, that was their best Fleming team, Jordan Fritz was QB and we had great game plan. We played the gameplan perfect. It’s one of the best executed games I ever had a team play.”
The Royals continued their dominant times from there, racking up victories from 2006-10, the last two coming via shutout, the first time in the series a team had ever won that way in back-to-back contests.
The only overtime game came in 2011 when the Panthers came away with a 28-25 victory. Desmond McAdams threw four TD passes for the Panthers, hitting Chaise Gulley in OT for the game-winner. The Panthers win also eliminated Mason County from playoff contention.
The Royals took it out on the Panthers the next thee meetings, including the other playoff matchup in 2012, a Royals come-from-behind victory, trailing 21-20 entering the fourth quarter before Rashon Nelson ran wild for three touchdowns and taking the contest, 40-21.
A 49-6 Royals victory followed in 2013 and the Panthers were able to close the Buchanan era out with a 16-9 victory in 2014.
FLIPPING THE SCRIPT
The ’14 win brought momentum back to Fleming. They haven’t lost since, including back-to-back shutouts in ’15 and ’16, winning by a combined score of 51-0. To even up the all-time series at 21 wins apiece, the Panthers executed an 18 play, 96-yard drive in the late stages of the fourth quarter last season to come away with an 18-14 victory.
Friday’s contest brings a game in which not many know what to expect. Both teams had a lot depart from a season ago, relying a lot on their senior classes. The Royals came away with a 53-0 victory over North Adams, Ohio in Week One, but the Green Devils only had 12 players dress for the contest. The Panthers were on the opposite end of a thumping, losing 47-6 to Harrison County.
One thing is for certain, whoever the winner is will not only have annual bragging rights, but will also be able to claim program history supremacy over the other for the time being. Stay tuned.
Check Friday’s edition of The Ledger Independent for a game preview on the matchup.