FLEMINGSBURG | Coming off their first playoff win in six years, the Fleming County Panthers are hoping to advance to the third round of the Class AAA playoffs.
In order to accomplish that goal, they will have to get past rival Mason County on the Royals' home turf and coach Bill Spencer understands that it will take a much better effort than his team showed in a 34-0 loss to Mason on Oct. 19 at Panther Field.
"I don't want to take anything away from Mason County, they're a great team and they played a very good game but we felt we didn't give a very good showing of ourselves in that game," Spencer said. "We dropped some passes we'd ordinarily catch and we really never had good field position during the whole game. We want to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and believe we did our best, win or lose, and I don't think the kids felt that way after that game."
After coming from behind to pull out a 37-36 win at Bath County last week, Spencer and the Panthers are hoping to continue that momentum.
"It was a tale of two very different halves last week," he said. "We got off to a hot start and we played about as well as we have all year in the first half when we went up 29-0 but they scored late in the half but we felt like we were in pretty good shape at the half. But Bath just came out on fire in the second half. They also took advantage of some untimely penalties, which was really frustrating. We had them in 3rd-and-10 situations six times and they converted every one of them, either by one of our penalties or with a pass play. We've been preaching all year that we gotta play through those situations and finish."
The Wildcats came all the way back and went in front 36-29 before Fleming rallied in the final minutes to pull out the improbable win.
"When we got the ball back, there was no doom and gloom on the sideline from our players. Instead they were fired up and they were just saying they were ready to go," Spencer said. "They showed a lot of fortitude by coming back in those last three minutes and on that last play (a two-point conversion for the win) you're either the goat or the hero and we were fortunate to be the hero this time."
The late heroics were provided by senior quarterback Desmond McAdams and sophomore Maverick Burnett, who teamed up for a 22-yard pass play on a 4th-and-18 just before a Burnett touchdown catch that pulled the Panthers to within a point. They also hooked up on a pass for the two-point conversion.
Burnett had a tremendous game, catching 11 passes for 136 yards and three scores, in addition to rushing for 143 yards on 13 carries and another score.
Spencer knows that playing Mason County, especially in a playoff game, doesn't require any special motivational techniques.
"We've had a good week of practice and the kids have been very focused," said the coach. "They're excited about having another week of football and this is a time when you don't need any extra pep talks or pep rallies to get ready for this game. Our main motivation is that if we win, we get to play another week of football. The kids are ready and chompin' at the bit."
The Fleming coach also doesn't expect any drastic schematic changes from the Royals.
"Well, they beat us 34-0, so, no, I don't expect any wholesale changes, they may tweak a few things but the way they played in that first game, why would you change anything?," he said. "They did a great job defensively in that first game and their linemen were more athletic than what we saw on film. Their linebackers, Lofton and Buchanan, also were outstanding with the way they bottled up Desmond when he tried to run the ball."
Spencer added that he expects an excellent atmosphere surrounding the game.
"I'm sure we'll have a lot of fans there, they've been a great support to us all year, home and away, and they were excited last week when they ran on the field congratulating the kids after the game," he said.