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After a Week Off Due to COVID-19 Restrictions, the Keystone Panthers Look to Keep Things Rolling Against Bucktail

Friday, September 24, 2021 @ 12:09 AM

Posted by Jared Sullenberger

KNOX, Pa. – After a week-long hiatus due to COVID-19, the unbeaten Keystone Panthers return to the gridiron to take on the winless Bucktail Bucks in a District 9, non-conference matchup Friday night and Panther Stadium.

The Panthers come into the week, averaging 20.7 points a game, while allowing their opponents just over 12 points per game.

Senior quarterback Bret Wingard has proven clutch as the leader of the Panther offense, completing 19 of 54 passes for 295 yards and four touchdown passes. Wingard has been most effective using his legs though as the dual threat signal caller has three scores on 37 rushing attempts.

“Anytime you have a guy that can be such a threat in both aspects of the offense, it’s hard for other teams to gameplan for that,” said Keystone Head Coach Ryan Smith. “With Bret being a big 6 foot 3 kid, we always tell him to be aggressive and to fall forward when he gets tackled, he always has the green light to use his legs.”

With four rushing touchdowns under their belt on the year, it has been do it all back Kyle Nellis that has shouldered most of the workload in the run heavy Keystone offense. Nellis has toted the ball 43 times for 223 yards and one score. That touchdown came on a 97 yard scamper against Port Allegany in week 2 of the season.

“Kyle comes from a strong bloodline of successful Keystone football players,” said Smith “From his dad down to his cousins, that family has always had big play ability.”

Wingard’s favorite target all season long has been speedy receiver Zander McHenry. Wingard to McHenry for a Panther touchdown will likely be heard proudly over the Public Address System in Panther Stadium Friday night and rightfully so.

McHenry, a senior, has hauled in nine receptions for 114 yards and three touchdowns. He’s averaging around 13 yards per catch and 38.0 yards per game.

“Zander just does it all, he is so athletic and is a do it all guy for us,” Smith said. “He just makes plays, his route running ability is so great and he is so speedy. He’s just so hard to cover for a whole game.”

The Panthers are 3-0 heading into week five of the season and part of that is the success that the defense has had all season long, a secondary that has nine interceptions through the first three games, Keystone’s secondary is always around the ball.

“The secondary really busted their butts in the offseason,” said Smith “We ran some new drills in the summer that has really helped us during the season so far.”

Led by Aidan Sell and McHenry with 22 tackles a piece, having sure fire tacklers in the secondary allows Head Coach Ryan Smith and the Panthers to think run first with their interior seven.

The defense has also got to opposing quarterbacks with a passion, totalling 10 sacks and 18 QB hurries on the year.

“Our defense has done a great job of being in position and playing their position to the best of their abilities,” Smith said. “These guys are so smart and we can throw a lot of different things at the at game speed.”

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As for Bucktail, the Bucks come into the week 0-3 with losses to Elk County Catholic, Cameron County and Smethport.

A team that relies on the success of the power run game, Bucktail has rushed the ball 43 times for 333 yards on the season, 7.7 yards per carry.

Quarterback Dylan Cross continues to be the X Factor week in and week out for the Bucks offense.

Cross has thrown the ball well, completing 13 of 25 passes for 176 yards and two scores.

Cross has been the main feature in the offense, rushing 22 times for 201 yards, picking up 9.1 yards a pop.

Connor Mason has been the feature back for Bucktail this season, carrying the ball 11 times for 63 yards, plunging ahead in the Bucks offense for one touchdown.

Cross has found receiver Zach Pick five times for 82 yards and one touchdown, while fellow receiver Brody Pentz has three catches for 32 yards and a touchdown.

On the defensive side of the ball for Bucktail, it’s no different than their offense. Cross leads the team in almost every statistical category. The “do it all guy” for Jared Hurlbert. Cross has racked up 25 total tackles, one interception, two forced fumbles and one sack.

Pick and Ashton Intallura each have 13 and 10 tackles respectively for the Bucks.

Keystone comes into the week looking to keep things rolling in a positive direction and look to get out of week 5 with a win and no injuries.

As for Bucktail, the Bucks are looking for their first win since October of last season. Kickoff is slated for 7 pm from Panther Stadium in Knox.

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

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