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Knox County Football Wins Regional Title
By David Sharp
A fast start helped propel Knox County to their first football playoff win since 1980. The Eagles defeated Princeton (5-6) by a final score of 34-20 November 4, 2009 at Ella Campbell Field. Knox County improved their overall record to 7-4; the third best in school history according to head football coach Steve Ramer.
Knox County captured four turnovers while hanging on to the football for zero give aways. The Eagles sacked Princeton quarterback Brycen Stark five times, three by senior Brian Schrage. Tristan Lonberger, Keenan Gillaspy and Leighton McCabe had pass interceptions while Ben Harder recovered a Princeton fumble.
The Eagles came out of the gate with a purpose. Knox County took the opening kickoff and drove 70 yards. Cameron Kirmse shook off a leg injury and raced 18 yards deep into Tiger territory.
Cameron Kirmse went the final six yards to the South end zone for a six-point lead at the 7:55 mark of period one. Tristan Lonberger fired a half back option pass to Leighton McCabe for the two-point conversion and an eight point advantage.
Princeton drove the football to the Eagle 15 yard line. The Eagles controlled the line of scrimmage early on, hampering the potent Tiger running game. Matt Hydorn hauled in a 28 yard pass. Brian Schrage sacked Brycen Stark on third down and seven, forcing a fourth down and long.
“We knew we had to stop (Vance Purdun),” said senior lineman Brian Schrage. “Our offensive line has been doing a good job the last couple of weeks. The running backs have been finding the holes. This is what we have been working for. It all worked out for us.”
Knox County stopped Princeton all state running back Vance Purdun for a seven yard loss. The Eagles wrested the ball back on downs at their 14 yard line. The Eagles have been making big plays the last
several weeks. Keenan Gillaspy broke through the Tiger defense for another huge gain.
The returning Class 1 all district quarterback raced 80 yards for a Knox County score with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter. The two point run failed. The huge Knox County crowd stood and cheered as the Eagles took their 14-0 lead.
Momentum continued to wear red. Ben Harder fell on a Princeton fumble, setting the Eagles up with a short field on the Tiger 28 yard line. Keenan Gillaspy struck again, this time with a 28 yard run to pay dirt 59 seconds after the previous Eagle touchdown.
Princeton is a good football team,” said Keenan Gillaspy with the evidence of defensive efforts to strip the football showing on the back of his hands. “We lost to them last year. We might have gotten a little revenge at home this time.”
“Our defensive line and front four did a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback all night,” said Keenan Gillaspy. “They did a good job of flushing him. They made the quarterback make throws he really didn’t want to. Other than the long run in the fourth quarter, we did a pretty good job of shutting Vance Purdun down.”
Knox County led 22-0 after Tristan Lonberger ran in the two point conversion of Keenan Gillaspy’s second of three touchdowns. The Tigers answered Knox County’s first quarter onslaught with a 65 yard touchdown drive.
Princeton has been to the Class 1 final four the last two seasons. The Tigers were missing four starters due to injuries. The Tigers made a critical red zone error, when a holding penalty was assessed against Princeton on the Knox County seven yard line.
The Tigers recorded five of their eight first half first downs on the same possession. Knox County snuffed a pass to their left on third down. Matt Hydorn found a seam in the Eagle defense.
The Brycen Stark found Hydorn on a corner route for a 20 yard touchdown pass with 5:27 showing on the second quarter clock. Vance Purdun ran in the two point conversion, trimming the Eagle advantage to 22-8.
Princeton stopped the Eagles on three downs, forcing a Keenan Gillaspy punt. Princeton took over on their 22 yard line with 2:04 remaining in the first half. Brian Schrage recorded a quarterback sack. David Hinkle nailed a Tiger runner for a six yard loss.
The Eagles forced Vance Purdun to punt. Knox County regained possession on their 46 yard line with 21 seconds to play until intermission. Tristan Lonberger cracked off a 13 yard run for a first down. Time expired with the Eagles charging to the dressing room holding a 22-8 halftime lead.
Princeton kept the football an estimated eight of the 12 second quarter minutes. Knox County’s defense limited the damage to eight points. Big plays ruled the first half. Knox County’s time of possession was around ten minutes.
First downs were even at eight during the first half. Knox County rushed 16 times for 206 yards, compared to 22 attempts for 81 Princeton yards from scrimmage. The Tigers were 2-3 passing for 48 yards and a touchdown.
Knox County did not complete a pass on the night. The Eagles held a 206-129 edge in total yards from scrimmage after two quarters of football.
Princeton took the second half kickoff and marched 60 yards for a touchdown. Brycen Stark capped the march with a one yard quarterback sneak at the 8:15 mark of the third quarter. The two point pass failed. The Tigers had clawed their way back in the contest, trailing by a 22-14 margin.
Leighton McCabe took the ensuing kick 78 yards to the Princeton seven yard line. Damon Hemmerling cashed in the chance with a five yard run at the 7:19 point of period three. Cameron Kirmse was unable to kick due to injury.
The two point run failed and Knox County led 28-14. Matt Hydorn ran the Knox County kickoff back 16 yards to the Eagle 46 yard line with 7:11 showing on the third quarter clock.
Knox County’s defense put on a show during the next two Tiger series. Leighton McCabe batted down a pass headed for Princeton receiver Colton Hartley at the Eagle 20 yard line. Cameron Kirmse came off the edge and sacked Brycen Stark for a five yard loss.
Knox County got the ball back on downs on their 20. Tristan Lonberger ended the next Princeton drive with an interception. Damon Hemmerling cracked off a 30 yard run near the end of the third quarter.
The Eagles made a mistake in the red zone. A ten yard holding penalty erased Keenan Gillaspy’s run to the Tiger 16 yard line. Jack Dennis came hard off the edge and recorded the lone Princeton quarterback sack of the night.
The thirteen yard loss turned what had been a promising scoring drive to a punting situation. Keenan Gillaspy pinned the Tigers back to their 19 yard line with 8:06 remaining in the game. Knox County led 28-14 after three periods.
Tristan Lonberger broke up a Tiger pass. Knox County gave Princeton a first down with an offside penalty on fourth down and four. The Tigers tried a long pass around midfield.
Keenan Gillaspy stepped in front of a Tiger receiver and picked off the pass. Gillaspy raced 55 yards for a touchdown at the 4:12 mark of the fourth quarter. The two point run failed and Knox County led by a 34-14 score.
Princeton took a short kick on their 49 yard line. The Tigers cracked off a 51 yard Vance Purdun touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage. The two point run failed and Princeton trailed 34-20 with exactly four minutes showing on the clock.
The fired up Tiger defense stuffed Knox County on their next series. Princeton gained momentum. The Tigers took over on their 26 after a short punt out of bounds with 2:13 to play in the game. Princeton aired out the ball down the East sideline.
Sophomore defensive back Leighton McCabe leaped and took the ball away from a Tiger receiver. McCabe raced 30 yards with the football to the Tiger 20 yard line.
“The turnovers were probably the difference in the game,” said Leighton McCabe. “After we got the first turnover, they just seemed kind of down. WE picked up and capitalized on their turnovers. Keenan Gillaspy made a nice read. Our defense really stepped up big. My turnover wasn’t as important as the others.”
The final Knox County pass interception took any chance Princeton had for eleventh hour heroics. The Eagles were able to run out the final 83 seconds and secure a trip to third ranked Marceline for a Class 1 Sectional berth with the 34-20 victory.
None of the current Eagle players were born when Knox County won their previous football playoff game. After a long drought, Knox has won five district championships since 2007.
John Weaver’s Lady Eagles won consecutive Class 1 district track championships in 2007-08. Knox County broke a 37 year drought when Jesse Crawford’s Eagles won back to back boys’ basketball district crowns in 2008-09.
Steve Ramer, Jesse Crawford, Bruce Vannoy and Jake Hemmerling coached the Eagles to their district and now Regional football championship in 2009.
“Princeton has been to the playoffs in 12 of the last 20 years. They are a traditional team,” said Knox County head football coach Steve Ramer. “We knew they were going to mount a comeback. We knew we would have to play for four quarters.”
“We had to keep punching away,” said Coach Ramer. “They weren’t going to be an easy out, and we knew it.”
Princeton held an unofficial 16-12 first down edge. The Eagles rushed 36 times for 271 yards. Keenan Gillaspy recorded nine carries for 140 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Keenan Gillaspy scored three total touchdowns on the night.
Damon Hemmerling carried eight times for 52 yards and a Knox County touchdown. Cameron Kirmse was 6-34 rushing with a touchdown. Tristan Lonberger was 5-22 rushing. Andy Greenley had eight rushes for 23 yards.
Keenan Gillaspy punted four times unofficially for a 36.5 yard average. Andy Greenley and Travis Hamlin led the Eagles with 12 tackles each. David Hinkle recorded 11 tackles. Cameron Kirmse had nine KCHS tackles.
Brian Schrage had all or part of three quarterback sacks. Cameron Kirmse sacked Brycen Stark once. Keenan Kite, David Hinkle and Damon Hemmerling had pieces of the Princeton quarterback as well.
Princeton rushed 40 times for 183 yards unofficially. Vance Purdun led the Tigers with 17 rushes for 82 yards and a touchdown. Princeton was able to gain yards while the Eagles keyed on Vance Purdun, but not enough to sway the outcome. The Eagles had five negative yardage plays against Vance Purdun.
Tyler Johnson was 8-57 on the ground. Brycen Stark had 12 carries for 31 gross yards. Stark was 5-13 passing for 105 yards, three interceptions and a touchdown.
Matt Hydorn caught two balls for 48 yards and a touchdown. Vance Purdun had two receptions for 42 yards. Purdun caught a 43 yard pass early in the second half, helping set up a Tiger touchdown.
Princeton had two penalties for 15 yards while Knox County was assessed three penalties for 20 yards. After adjusting for quarterback sacks, Princeton held a 270-249 edge in net yards from scrimmage.
“We played like winners tonight,” said Steve Ramer. “We answered their call. When they made a big play, we made a big play back. If you are going to win a playoff game, that’s what you have got to do.”
“You have got to answer and swing that momentum back to your side. We knew we had to make them throw the ball,” said Steve Ramer of the Eagle defensive effort.
“We knew our front four could get pretty decent pressure. We had a few things in our formations that we could get quick sacks from. In the second half, they could only send two receivers out on some routes because we could get good pressure.”
“We were a little better at covering those two people when we could get our safeties to come up and pick that up over the top. This team has marked itself as one of the best football teams at Knox County.”
“We have to turn that focus (to Marceline) and not be satisfied emotionally.”