Panthers and Cats to continue lengthy relationship tonight
By Jim Turner

Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM

When you talk about long-term relationships, the Russellville vs. Franklin-Simpson annual get-together puts most others to shame. They’ve been meeting in public every fall with very few exceptions for almost 70 years. And they’ll continue tradition Friday, and the game could be another good one.

When Coach Lucien ‘Squee’ Squiers put the first-ever Panthers team on the field in 1935, Franklin was the fourth opponent of that inaugural season. Franklin won that first encounter 20-0 on Oct. 3, 1935. Games were played in the early days at Legion Field in the area now known at Hampton Park.

They then had the longest break in their relationship, going nine years before what had become Franklin-Simpson lost to Coach Ben Parker’s Panthers 46-0 in 1944 as World War II neared an end. That 46-0 was the same score that Coach Harold Hunter’s 1947 team beat the Wildcats. Russellville won the first seven of those encounters by a combined score of 258-52. Coach Jimmy Haynes got credit for three of those wins.

When Franklin-Simpson started winning in 1951, though, the Cats tended to make a habit of it. They won 24 of the next 32 encounters, including 12 straight from 1971-82 before Coach Ken Barrett’s great 1983 team, which will be honored at Ken Barrett Field in two weeks, ended that streak.

Sometimes when they played early in the season, both teams were on the way to great seasons, even state championships in the same year.

Russellville (5-0) comes into this week’s game at James ‘Shadetree’ Matthews Field as a legitimate state contender once again. The Panthers are ranked second in the state by both the Associated Press and The Courier-Journal’s Litratings. The albatross of being in the same district with Mayfield is always there. The Cardinals are ranked number one in Class A again, but many observers think this could be the year Coach John Myers’ Panthers reverse the Mayfield trend.

“We’re excited about where we are, but we’re not near where we want to be,” Myers told John Brett Reynolds on WRUS’ Coaches Show Tuesday. “Playing a team like Franklin gives us an opportunity to work on things we need to improve on and to keep our starters in the game longer.”

Russellville is the highest scoring team in Class A, having outscored their opponents by an average of 49-12. The last three wins have come on a running clock by an average score of 55-2. Because of the lopsided scores, Myers has substituted liberally. The starters need more repetitions, however, as they prepare for regular-season ending games against Mayfield and South Warren. Franklin should provide that kind of competition, even though the Litratings favor the Panthers by 28 points.

Franklin-Simpson is 2-3 overall for the season. Wins have been over Logan County and Greenwood. Losses were to Danville, Coach Lance Gregory’s Graves County powerhouse, and BGA of Franklin, Tenn.

Junior Colton Hurt is the starting quarterback. According to sportswriter Brian Davis of the Franklin Favorite, Hurt has completed 14 of his 38 passes for 169 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He also leads the team with three rushing touchdowns. Senior Chris Holman leads the Wildcats’ ground game with 102 carries for 441 yards rushing, and he also has one of the three touchdown receptions on the season. Senior Jerry Billups has 43 carries for 246 yards rushing with a touchdown, and Isaiah Hall has 28 carries for 223 yards rushing with a touchdown. Billups leads the team with three receptions while senior Joseph Hawkins leads the team with 93 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

The Wildcats’ defense has created eight turnovers this season. Senior linebacker Reed Caudill leads the team with two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown against Logan County. Seniors Nick Robey and Marquiez Robbins have each returned a fumble for a touchdown. The Wildcats have not allowed a player to rush for 100 yards against them this season and have held two of their opponents this season to under 200 yards of total offense. Franklin-Simpson has also held their opponents nine out of 12 times from converting on fourth down this season, Davis says. Wildcats’ special teams have blocked four field goal attempts this season, and Robbins returned a 97 yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week.

“Franklin-Simpson has a very aggressive defense, something that we have not seen yet. They are 2-3 but could easily be 4-1 on the season,” Coach Myers told Davis. “They have great pursuit to the football and a running game with a powerful fullback and three speed backs that can break a long run as soon as they hit the edge. We are going to have to match their athleticism and play fundamental football on Friday night.”

That Wildcat defense has to be tough to stop the Panthers. Senior Demarcus Hampton is averaging nearly 12 yards per carry. Although he’s handling the ball only eight times per game, he has 473 yards and 8 touchdowns. Senior Quarterback Barrett Croslin is averaging over 10 yards per carry on 30 totes and has scored three touchdowns. Dequan Beard has 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 18 attempts, an average of 12 yards per carry. Additionally Coco Darden has 211 yards and four TDs on just 20 carries, so he’s averaging over 10 yards on each, too. Dustin Morgan also has rushed 18 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Desmon Quarles—the other fullback besides Morgan—just has 73 yards to his credit, but he’s scored five touchdowns.

Reserves Johnny Drumgole, Josh Bigbee and M.J. Jones have also scored, and four other backs have carried the ball. Despite three of the games being shortened by the running clock, the Panthers have rushed for 1,535 yards and 27 touchdowns, while giving up only 365 yards and 6 touchdowns to their five opponents.

Like Franklin, Russellville doesn’t pass the ball often, but when Croslin does throw the ball, it’s usually to the much improved Lee McMurray.

“Russellville has several kids that can go the distance anytime they touch the football. The thing that they are doing better than the five teams we have played so far is that are making the big plays and taking them for touchdowns. That is a huge concern for me,” said F-S coach Doug Preston told Davis.

Myers is quick to praise Panther linemen for their work. They include Jacob Procter, Trey Matthews, Truston Clayton, Rashaun Jones and kicker Corey Wright, who has recovered sufficiently from elbow surgery to play his tackle position now.

Russellville’s defense is opportunistic, as shown by 4 of their 13 interceptions being returned for touchdowns. Senior defensive back Christian Naylor and defensive backs Croslin and Darden lead the team with three interceptions each. Naylor has two interception returns for touchdown with Darden and junior defensive back Jamarius Duncan getting the other two.

The Panthers have five fumble recoveries on the season with linebacker Quarles leading the team with two fumble recoveries with Jones, sophomore Bigbee and freshman Drumgole each with one.

Game time is 7 p.m. WRUS’ pregame show begins at 6:30 with Reynolds and Alex Watkins reporting the action.

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