MOREHEAD – Fleming County coach Bill Spencer knew that in order to beat rival Rowan County, the Panthers would need to take care of the ball and avoid allowing the Vikings to collect big plays.
Rowan County turned three interceptions into touchdowns in the first half when the two met in Morehead on Friday, before a 60-yard run from Cole Wallace on the first play of the second half propelled the Vikings to a 39-14 win.
“Our biggest thing is we’re not an emotionally strong football team. We’re not a mentally strong football team. In the first quarter, some things were going right for us and we were a pretty good football team. We were playing good on offense and on defense we were getting stops,” said Spencer. “All of a sudden we get a couple of turnovers and you could see it – we’re Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – we’re a totally different team.”
The Panthers, coming off a 60-13 loss to Greenup County last week, got the ball to start the game, but Jonathan Maher was intercepted by Zeke Ferguson on the second play, giving the Vikings the ball in Fleming County territory.
Wallace picked up a few yards on Rowan County’s first play, before Jacob McDaniel broke free for a 25-yard touchdown run to give the Vikings a 7-0 advantage less than two minutes in.
Fleming County struck back with big plays on their next two possessions, starting with a 66-yard run from Tanner Weaver to make it 7-6. On their next possession, Maher hit Cole Saunders for a 61-yard score. Maher found Carson Gulley on the two-point conversion, giving the Panthers a 14-7 lead.
That was it for the Panthers’ offense, as they struggled to put together drives and were held scoreless for the remaining 43 minutes.
Maher was picked off again on Fleming County’s first possession of the second quarter, setting up a 10-play drive capped off by Wallace powering his way into the end zone from the 9-yard line for his first of four touchdowns on the night, making it 14-13.
Another interception on the Panthers’ next possession was followed by a 66-yard run to the end zone for Wallace, giving the Vikings a 19-14 lead they would take into halftime.
“Our defensive staff – Coach [Kevin] Trent, [Alston] Buttry – do a great job of getting those guys ready,” said Rowan County coach Kelly Ford. “I know we kid around all the time in the coaches’ office, but they’re doing a good job of preparing our kids, letting them seek things and they’re flying around to the football. That’s what we’ve been preaching from day one – if we’re going to be a good defense, we’ve got to smart swarm and make sure we get all 11 swinging around the football.”
Wallace picked up another big run – going 60 yards to the Fleming County 4-yard line – on the first play of the second half, taking all of the momentum out of the Panthers’ sideline. The sophomore finished with 227 yards rushing in the game.
“The second half we came out with a poor start. They score first play, second play and then from that point we might as well have just gotten on the bus and went to the house,” said Spencer. “We just mentally were out of the ballgame from that point on.”
It took two more tries, but Wallace eventually found the end zone from a yard out for the 25-14 advantage.
“That gave us great strides of momentum. He squeaked out a big run for us, got us excited and got the team rolling for the second half,” said Ford. “Great on that kid for having another great game for us.”
Rowan County added two more touchdowns to cap off the 39-14 win. The first came on a 9-yard run from Wallace with 5:10 to play in the third quarter and the second came on a 3-yard quarterback keeper from Tabor Wright in the fourth.
Fleming County finished the second half with younger, inexperienced players in the offense to try to find some momentum and rest the starters before next week’s game against Montgomery County, which will lead the Panthers into district play the following week at Lewis County.
“At that point in time, defensively we weren’t doing enough to get the ball back and this or that. They were up three or four scores. We had a couple guys getting banged up a little bit, so we want to give some other guys some opportunities,” said Spencer. “Every game is a big game that you want to win, but this is not as big a game as what we’ve got coming down the road.”
Next week’s game against Montgomery County is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. in Flemingsburg. The Panthers fall to 1-3 with Friday’s loss.
Rowan County improves to 3-1 with the win. The Vikings will travel to Bourbon County next week for a 7:30 p.m. game.
VIKINGS 39, PANTHERS 14
RC – McDaniel 25-yard run (Besant kick) 10:15
FC – Weaver 66-yard run (Kick failed) 9:18
FC – Maher 61-yard pass to Saunders (Two-point conversion) 7:00
RC – Wallace 9-yard run (Kick failed) 2:19
RC – Wallace 66-yard run (Two-point conversion failed) 1:33
RC – Wallace 1-yard run (Kick failed) 10:50
RC – Wallace 9-yard run (Two-point conversion) 5:10
RC – Wright 3-yard run (Kick failed) 8:56