VANCEBURG — Fleming County coach Bill Spencer stressed taking care of the football and forcing turnovers as the key to their success in district play.
While they failed in the first category in the second half, it was two forced first half turnovers that opened up their contest with Lewis County on their way to a 47-22 victory over the Lions.
“Proud of the way our guys got the game started and came out with a fire. We wanted to set that tone early, get a lead. We did do that, always got a few things to work on. Second half I wish we could have finished a little better, but we got that lead and kind of held on to it,” Panthers coach Bill Spencer said.
After Kaleb Flanery opened up the scoring with a 67-yard touchdown run at the 7:08 mark in the first quarter followed by a Jonathan Maher 47-yard touchdown pass to Cole Saunders, it was an Aaron Christiansen interception followed by a Flanery fumble recovery that opened up the contest.
Christiansen’s interception set up a Maher 46-yard touchdown run to make it 19-0, while Flanery’s recovery set up a Brad Applegate 1-yard touchdown run to make it 25-0 Panthers less than two minutes into the second quarter.
The Lions got the zero off the board as Garrett Applegate found the end zone with an 18-yard touchdown run to make it 25-8 with 6:22 left in the half.
Big plays, a thorn to the Lions’ side this season, continued to pile up for the Panthers as they added two more scores before the half. The first one a Maher 30-yard pass to Saunders for their second strike of the day, the second a 20-yard barreling run from Tanner Weaver to give the Panthers a 41-8 lead at halftime.
“You got a few young guys looking in the backfield and it’s easy to get caught up in that. One touchdown deep was a freshman, the other was a sophomore and those guys are going to get better and that’s the positive thing moving forward,” Lions coach Josh Hughes said.
Lewis County showed some fight after the break. They’d open up the half with a seven-play, 81-yard drive resulting in a 27-yard Applegate run, his second score of the night.
The Panthers answered, getting a rushing touchdown from their fifth different player on the evening, this time from Aaron Christiansen from six yards out to make it 47-14 Panthers with 5:45 left in the third.
The Lions kept responding on their first play in the ensuing drive, this time getting a touchdown run from Immanuel Manning from 57 yards out just 13 seconds later to make it 47-22, with 5:32 remaining in the third.
“I was thrilled with the second half effort. I told the guys after the game they scored more, they won 22-8 in the second half and that’s all you could have asked from there. They put the first half behind them and played harder in the second half,” Hughes said.
The Lions had some more chances to inch closer, as they recovered a Panthers fumble in their own red zone, but a drive stalled out on the Panthers side of the field.
They’d force another turnover, something the Panthers have been prone to in their first five games with 16, but again another opportunity slipped by with less than four minutes to go in the fourth as a drive resulted in a turnover on downs.
Fleming was able to run the clock out from there, getting to 2-4 on the year, most importantly a 1-0 record in the Class 3A, 5th District.
“We’re still trying to learn how to be winners and learn how to do things right. It’s easy when you come out in the second half up 30 points and think the game is over and let off the gas a little bit, but hats off to Lewis County, those kids kept fighting and didn’t ever give up. They came out, fought hard, caught us off guard a little bit, but we’ll keep working and get better,” Spencer said. “We talked earlier in the week getting the preseason games over, we’re into the games that matter now and we’re 1-0 now and that’s all we can ask,” Spencer said.
The Panthers were led by Flanery’s 143 yards rushing while Maher ran for 121 and threw for another 95, all to Cole Saunders.
“We talked early in the year by taking some pressure off Johnny by establishing the run game and I think we did that tonight. If we’re a pass first team I think that puts a little more pressure on him. Whenever we’re running the ball and throw when we want to it makes it a little bit easier for him,” Spencer said.
Lewis County dropped to 1-4 and 0-1 in the district and will face Pendleton County next Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Applegate led the Lions with 136 yards rushing on 24 carries. Manning added 55 yards on the ground and 51 yards receiving. Zach Lehn tallied 89 yards passing, completing 8-of-14 attempts.
“I think it comes to if that works than that’s what you got to do. We’ve got to make sure that’s what we’re stressing in practice. We probably need to devote more practice time to that and tell the guys that’s what we’re going to run and we have to be able to do it,” Hughes said.
PANTHERS 47, LIONS 22
(FC) Flanery 67-yard run (Paige kick) 7:08
(FC) Maher 47-yard pass to Saunders (kick failed) 2:22
(FC) Maher 46-yard run (run failed) :19
(FC) Applegate 1-yard run (run failed) 10:05
(LC) Applegate 18-yard run (Applegate run) 6:22
(FC) Maher 30-yard pass to Saunders (Flanery run) 6:04
(FC) Weaver 20-yard run (Maher pass to Flanery) 3:07
(LC) Applegate 27-yard run (run failed) 8:08
(FC) Christiansen 6-yard run (pass failed) 5:45
(LC) Manning 57-yard run (Lehn pass to Manning) 5:32
Records: Fleming County (2-4, 1-0), Lewis County (1-4, 0-1)