The Lenoir City Panthers earned a statement win Friday night, in knocking of the No. 2 ranked West Rebels by a score of 42-27.
After losing 24-14 at home to Bearden, the Panthers were coming off back-to-back strong wins over Kingston and Knoxville Catholic, and Friday they put together what head coach Mike Zeller said he felt was their best all-around performance.
"That was a pretty good football team, a real good football team," Zeller said. "Our kids played very physical."
The Panthers got on the board first, scoring on the game's opening drive. After a Jaylon Woods kick return started Lenoir City off at the 47-yard line, the offense was able to drive 53 yards on seven plays, capping it off with a 9-yard rush from Jordan Willis.
West would tie the game up on the ensuing possession. Having been held to a fourth and 16 play, West would earn a first down when the Panthers were flagged for roughing the kicker.
After the penalty, West would use eight plays to drive 67 yards. Quarterback Ryan Francis was credited with a touchdown, rushing in from three yards out on a quarterback draw.
Lenoir City scored quickly again, this time on a 29-yard pass from Jordan Hall to Lucas Hamilton on what was the first play of the second quarter. Dakota Vincil added the point after.
The next three drives would end with a punt from each team and a turnover on downs from West. Following the turnover, Lenoir City's Caleb Wilson would break a 57-yard carry for a touchdown.
Up 21-7, the Panthers were able to recover a West fumble. However, on the very next play Wilson would fumble the ball himself. The ball was recovered by the Rebels and Wilson was injured on the play.
"I don't know anything other than it's his knee," Zeller said.
They would score on the turnover, and with 1:12 left in the half the Panthers would drive the ball down to the West 19, calling time out with six seconds on the clock.
Dakota Vincil's field goal attempt would miss just wide, taking the two teams into half time.
On the first drive of the second half, the Panthers would stop West on a fourth and two at the Rebels 45.
Lenoir City would drive the ball down for its fourth touchdown of the game, scoring on a 5-yard rush by Jordan Hall.
Late in the first quarter West would score as Francis connected with former Panthers wideout Terrance Hall for 57 yards. The point after was not good.
On the ensuing possession Hall connected with Willis for a 37-yard touchdown pass to go up 35-20. The score was Willis' second of the game. He finished with 61 totals yards, to which he said he was having fun on the field.
After forcing a punt by the Rebels with 10:22 left in the game.
Lenoir City drove the ball 67 yards on 17 plays and ran off 8:28 before Jaylon Woods finally finished the drive with a 5-yard rush.
Vincil made his seventh point after of the night and Lenoir City led West 42-20.
The Panthers would attempt to squib the ensuing kick-off, but Nathan Cottrell would return the kick 97 yards for a touchdown.
West attempted an on-side kick, but Lenoir City recovered and ran out the rest of the clock. "They were No. 2 in the state," Hamilton said. "That's a confidence boost. That's a spot in the playoffs right there. We've beat both 5A teams in our region."
Zeller said after the game that while the win was a big one for the team, they need to keep focused for the remainder of the season if they hope to continue their success.
"It's one game, not one season," he said. "Hopefully we can keep moving forward."
The play of the offensive and defensive line made a difference in the game.
"We're not going to do anything without our offensive line," Zeller said.
Lenoir City will next host William Blount for senior night.