NORTH VERNON — In a season that wasn’t as successful as they expected, a dozen Jennings County senior players were honored Friday before their regular-season finale against Hoosier Hills powerhouse Jeffersonville.
But on a night when they were expected to take a thumping, senior leaders like quarterback Ryan Cowan, running back Tommy Taylor, tight end Luke Bozell and defensive stalwarts like Jordan Diss and Conner Montgomery gave the visiting Red Devils all they could handle in a 67-47 defeat.
Other honored Panthers included tight end Alex Coppock, linemen Blake Myrick, Branson Ping, Darron Lovegrove and Julio Perez, as well as kickers Zach Andis and Andrew Megel. They joined forces to give the high-powered Red Devils plenty to be concerned about.
In the end, Jeffersonville proved to have too much firepower, scoring early and often to build a 39-19 halftime lead en route to claiming runner-up honors in the conference.
The loss, meanwhile, put the Panthers at 1-8 overall and 1-6 the HHC. They begin sectional play next Friday at Bedford North Lawrence, which beat Jennings County, 44-0, in the regular season.
The Red Devils (6-3, 5-2), were thumped by HHC champ Columbus East last week, leaving the Panthers as a springboard to get back on track heading into postseason play. But it may be Jennings County that has the greater momentum.
Finding themselves in a deep hole early, the Panthers came out in the second half and battled the quicker Red Devils. The scored a trio of fourth-quarter touchdowns that forced the guests to keep their starters on the field the entire contest.
“That was a wild one,” said Jennings County coach Scott Buening. “Jeffersonville offensively is so strong, but our guys never gave up.”
The Panthers turned in their best offensive performance of the season, rolling up nearly 400 totals yards with a solid ground game and determined air attack.
Cowan sliced up the Jeffersonville defense with a trio of scoring passes and a short scoring run. His first touchdown pass, a 22-yarder to Luke Bozell, helped his team pull to within 32-13. The Panthers then recovered their first on-side kick of the game and Cowan struck again, this time to Tommy Taylor from 18 yards out.
Cowan finished with 182 yards passing on 9 of 19 attempts. Five of his completions went to Bozell, who had 133 receiving yards.
“Ryan was hitting and Luke had a fantastic game,” Buening said. “It was nice to have Tommy Taylor back because his presence in the lineup allowed us to open things up.”
Taylor returned after a four-game injury absence and pummeled Jeffersonville for 83 yards, as well as a rushing score, while junior backfield partner Preston Teltow closed out the evening by running for 132 yards on 27 carries. His 5-yard run with 7:04 left in the game made the shootout, 60-40.
The Panthers got the ball back moments later and scored again as Cowan plunged in from two yards out, and also recovered another on-side kick. Unfortunately, Cowan was sacked on a fourth-down play and Jeffersonville added one more score to put the cap on a wild effort.
The Red Devils got four passing touchdowns from quarterback Tyler Fridley and a trio of scores from Austin Hines. Jeffersonville first got on the board by returning a Cowan interception for a score just 72 seconds into the game. They also scored on quick drives of two, four, four and nine plays to rack up the 39 first-half points.
They continued that pace in the third quarter, as well.
“Hopefully we can take something from this to Bedford next week,” Buening said. “We’ve had our eyes on Bedford that past couple of years and it would be nice to finally flip the coin.
“We’ll just have to see what happens.”