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Trimble County struck first and ran the ball successfully against the Carroll County defense. But ultimately, it was seniors Carson Butcher and Trent Downs who carried the Panthers to victory Friday night at home.
Butcher scored four touchdowns on the ground, while Downs threw for two more to give Carroll a 41-26 win over their district and border rival. With the win, the Panthers clinched a district playoff berth.
“Great job by Trimble County,” Carroll head coach Mike Weedman said. “They were prepared, well-coached and moved the ball very effectively against us, did a very good job.”
Led by the two-headed running attack of freshman Wyatt Adkins and junior Kyle Sparks, Trimble rushed 50 times for 195 yards.
“(Adkins) has come a long way,” Trimble head coach William Blair said. “He’s hard-nosed. He’s one of those kids, he only knows one speed and he only knows how to go downhill. He’s not a cut and slasher. But then you’ve got Sparks who’s a little bit of both. He’s more balanced.”
Blair said his team’s strategy was to use the two running backs as a 1-2 punch against Carroll’s defense, a successful tactic.
“I think that Coach Blair and Trimble County did a really good job. They were double-teaming us a lot up front in the interior of our defense … and were able to get those three and four yards a pop,” Weedman said. “That was their game, and they stuck with it and they were very effective at it.”
The Raiders opened the game pounding the ball up the middle of the Panther defense. Following a muffed punt that Trimble converted into a first down, Adkins scored the first touchdown of the game from 29 yards out. The Raiders failed to convert on the two-point conversion, the Achilles heel for the offense, giving them a 6-0 lead.
However, Carroll also came out hot. Sophomore Blake Newby returned the kickoff to Trimble’s 40-yard line where Butcher went to work. Following an incomplete pass, Butcher rushed four straight times and ended up in the end zone on a 1-yard run with 5:59 remaining in the quarter. Senior Ben Newby converted on the extra point, giving Carroll the lead, 7-6.
Carroll’s defense held on Trimble’s next possession, and they were forced to punt. During the return, Trimble junior Aaron Blanton was injured and was removed by ambulance from the field. Following the game, Blanton was back from the hospital and with his team in the postgame huddle.
“That took a lot out of us,” Blair said. “He’s our shutdown guy. We put him in positions to make plays. He’s done a great job at it.”
Following the injury timeout, Butcher scored on a 4-yard run with 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter, 14-6.
The Raiders took over and ran the ball straight down the field, including a fourth down conversion. Sparks capped off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to senior Stuart Barnes, 14-12.
Trimble kicked the ball out of bounds, giving Carroll possession at their own 35-yard line. Downs jump-started the passing game with long completions to both senior Nick Carroll and Blake Newby. Butcher leaped over the pile at the goal line for another touchdown, 21-12.
The Raiders moved the ball right before the end of the half, but on fourth down, Panther senior Evan Mefford intercepted a pass to kill the drive.
Coming out of the break, Downs picked up where he left off, dropping a 64-yard bomb to Mefford on the Raiders secondary, 28-12.
“They’re a big play team,” Blair said. “(Butcher and Downs), they’re big play guys. … Of four guys out there (in our secondary), there were three freshmen, and they took advantage of that.”
The quick score did not discourage the Raiders, however. They continued with their game plan and handed the Panthers a heavy dose of their running game, capping off the drive with a second touchdown pass to Barnes, cutting the lead to 28-18 after missing the two-point conversion.
On the ensuing possession, Blake Newby carried the ball for a first down. On the next play, Butcher broke free for a 55-yard scamper, stiff-arming a Trimble defender on his way to the end zone. Trimble blocked the extra point attempt, 34-18.
The Raiders scored their final offensive points of the game with two minutes to go in the third quarter when Sparks hit Barnes for a fourth and seven, 34-24.
After directing the kickoff out of bounds three straight times, the Panthers got the ball at Trimble’s 37-yard-line. Downs threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to junior Dillon Craig with 11:08 to go in the ball game, 41-24.
With under two minutes to go in the game following a Carroll fumble, the Raiders were threatening once again. On first and goal from the 9-yard-line, Mefford tipped a pass and intercepted the ball in the end zone. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Mefford ran with the ball in the end zone before stepping out of bounds, and the referees called him for a safety, giving two free points and possession to the Raiders.
However, the defense withstood the pressure as defensive back Carroll intercepted a pass with 40 seconds to go to end the game.
“For a team that wasn’t supposed to do anything, I’m tickled to death,” Blair said. “We got a lot of kids with a lot of heart, and our community has got great support. Anywhere else in the state, they lost to their rival I don’t know if their parents would have come down and been hugging and loving on their kids, but that’s what kind of community we’ve got right here.”
Weedman also was proud of his team, especially Downs and Newby. When asked about the team’s strategy to mix up the run and the pass, Weedman credited Downs for “being the quarterback that he is. We joke but we’re very serious in the same matter that he knows the offense better than anybody, and he’s just a product of hard work and studying. He takes it very seriously and the reason we are about able to do that is because he has worked so hard at it.”
For the second straight game, Newby stepped in for an injured Tyshawn Embs and split the workload with Butcher.
“Blake’s a breath of fresh air,” Weedman said. “He can do it all. He can catch, he can run, he needs to work on his blocking a bit, but other than that, he’s a spark plug for us.”
With the victory, Carroll sealed a spot in the playoffs—a re-match with Holy Cross (Covington) on Nov. 4.
However, before that, the Panthers must take care of business against Dayton on senior night. “We want to send these seniors out right, send them out with a win.”
Carson Butcher, 12/145 yards, 4 TD
Blake Newby, 7/82 yards
Trent Downs, 3/11 yards
Trent Downs, 4/7 for 133 yards, 2 TD
Evan Mefford, 1/64 yards, TD
Nick Carroll, 1/33 yards
Blake Newby, 1/20 yards
Dillon Craig, 1/16 yards, TD
Travis Branum, 4 solo, 15 asst
Josh Gibbs, 7 solo, 6 asst
Duane Robbins, 2 TFL, 5 solo, 8 asst
Wyatt Adkins, 26/147, TD
Kyle Sparks, 19/65
Bo Hawkes, 5, -17
Kyle Sparks, 5/8 for 93 yards, 3 TD
TJ Payton, 0/2
Stuart Barnes, 5/93 yards, 3 TD