Defense saves day for Panthers

BEDFORD — When its back was against the wall Friday night, the Jennings County defense was at its best.

The Panthers recovered a pair of fumbles and stopped Bedford North Lawrence twice on fourth down in the fourth quarter to prevail 21-13 and move into a tie for second place in the Hoosier Hills Conference.

“We had a couple guys going both ways, and we were tired,” said senior running back/cornerback Austin Grunden. “But we had to dig down. We run miles every Monday, so we were conditioned.”

Grunden was a key offensively for Jennings County (4-2, 3-1), running for 120 yards and a first-half touchdown. He ran for 88 of his yards in the first half, including 61 on one play that set up his 1-yard score.

“My line was great up front, and they did a good job all night,” Grunden said.

The defense, meanwhile, allowed plenty of short passes, but the only big play it allowed was a 33-yard, first-half, touchdown pass from Brayden Tidd to Drew Roberts.

Linebacker/strong safety Ethan Chandler led the Panthers defense with 11 tackles. Linebacker Peyton Shepherd and defensive lineman Brady Shepherd recovered fumbles, the latter coming at the Panthers’ 12 with 8:42 left in the game.

Then, Jennings County stopped the Stars (2-4, 2-2) on fourth-and-1 at their own 49 and fourth-and-11 at their own 46 the last two times they had the ball.

“Our defense just kept grinding there near the end,” Brady Shepherd said. “We’re a tight unit. We’ve been together for awhile. We wanted it so bad because we do so much in practice during the week.”

“I was proud of our defense and also our kicking game,” Jennings County coach Rick Zimmerman said. “Our normal punter (Matt Kirchner) was out, and the kid that punted for us (Konner Logan) is a soccer player, and he did a real good job of directional punting and getting a roll to switch field position. Then, our defense did a tremendous job the second half.”

The Panthers jumped out to a 14-0 lead after scoring the first two times they had the ball. Garrett Day threw a perfect fade route to Matt Cornett for a 17-yard touchdown, and Chandler powered over from the 1 for the second score.

Bedford outgained Jennings County 315-223, but the Panthers did not commit a turnover and were penalized only twice for 20 yards.

“This is a good group,” said Zimmerman, who returned this year for his second head coaching stint at the school. “We have 25 seniors, and they’re hungry. I love their work ethic and their attitude. They’re a great group of kids, and I’m sure happy I got back into coaching.”