The Pikeville Panthers, ranked #1 in the KSR Class A Prep Rankings, easily defeated the Sayre Spartans 49-13 in the first round of the playoffs.
The reigning Class A champion Panthers rolled out to a 28-6 halftime lead and never looked back.
There is no KSR curse in Pikeville as the Panthers move to 2-0 when hosting Kroger's KSR Game of the Week.
Sayre had not played a team of Pikeville’s caliber this season, but with the Spartans coming in undefeated there was some thought that this could perhaps be one of those rare, closely contested first round games.
It was not.
Junior quarterback Isaac McNamee threw four touchdown passes and ran for two more in Pikeville’s efficient offense.
The Panthers' Brayden Thomas also had several bruising runs up the middle to set up first half scores. The yards Thomas gained after contact would make Benny Snell proud.
Sayre also had trouble stopping Pikeville’s passes to the flat, especially to the left side.
“We saw on film that they bit pretty hard on fakes so we knew we can get some RPOs to the flats and our guys up front could make some big block to allow those big plays,” McNamee told KSR after the game.
Pikeville’s first touchdown came on a 14-yard pass from McNamee to junior Brandon Lowe in the flat.
Sayre gave Lowe way too much of a cushion, giving lineman Peyton Sayers and Jay McNamee plenty of room to get out in space and clear the way.
Pikeville led 7-0 only 3 minutes into the game.
After a great Sayre punt by Robert Farish, Cory Givens picked off McNamee to give the Spartans a short field.
Caleb Kern scored on a 7-yard Spartan touchdown run a few plays later.
Pikeville’s Zac Lockhart blocked the point after to keep the Panthers up 7-6.
The Sayre TD was set-up by this incredible highlight run from Sayre senior Trey Dennis, son of former Kentucky Wildcat Harold Dennis.
McNamee added a 1-yd touchdown run on the next drive to make it 13-6 Pikeville.
The extra point was blocked.
Pikeville’s Landon Hammock had a big sack to force another Spartan punt.
McNamee again beat the Spartans with a pass to the left flat, with Lockhart avoiding some tackles on his 21-yard touchdown catch to make it 21-6.
After yet another Spartan punt, McNamee struck again with, you guessed it, another pass to the left flat. McNamee
rolled right, turned around and hit junior Blake Birchfield for a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Birchfield made a few guys miss and got some help from his blockers.
The Panthers drove the nail in the coffin on the last series of the first half and the first series of the second half.
With Sayre inside the Panthers' 30-yard line, Birchfield had a big sack and Peyton Sayers added a tackle for loss to keep the Spartans at bay heading into halftime.
Sayre got the ball to start the second half but Lockhart intercepted a Spartan pass near midfield and the junior returned it all the way to the three-yard line.
“I saw the formation and we’ve studied their playbook, so I had a good idea where the ball was going,” said Lockhart, who was named to the KSR All-State team
earlier this week.
Lockhart’s interception return led to a Birchfield touchdown run on the following play. Just like that it was 34-6 only 30 seconds in the third quarter.
McNamee threw a fairly deep pass to the left was tipped up by Sayre but caught by Lockhart, who got behind the defense for a 43-yard score.
The play reminded me of Devery Henderson’s famous catch against UK in the unfortunate bluegrass miracle.
McNamee’s 2-point conversion run made it 42-6 and forced a running clock with 6:25 remaining in the third quarter. He ran in a 6-yard TD on fourth and 2 on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 49-6.
Cole Pennington’s short TD run made it a final of 49-13.
The Panthers defense pressured Sayre junior QB Cole Pennington all night.
Hammock, Ricardo Perez, Luke Ray and a host of others were constantly in the Spartan backfield, making life difficult for the talented QB.
“It’s tough to get pressure on him because he’s so good at reading defenses, he usually knows where he’s going before the snap,” Pikeville coach Chris McNamee said about Cole Pennington.
“We were able to take his first read away a couple times and we were able to get some pressure.”
Credit the Spartans for finishing 8-1 in their first full varsity season of football since the 1970s.
Pennington, who has an offer from Marshall, will be back next year to lead the offense.
His dad, Sayre head coach (and former NFL QB) Chad Pennington, is to be commended for getting the Spartans playing so well so fast this season.
The high-octane passing Spartans are just getting started.
Isaac McNamee, the MVP of last year’s state title game, finished 10-of-14 for 168 yards, four touchdowns and 1 interception. He added 23 yards and two scores on the ground against the Spartans.
Like Pennington, he also has an offer from Marshall.
“I felt like Isaac played like he’s played all year.
He trusted his teammates and works to put us in the best position he can,” Coach McNamee said.
Pikeville is one of the favorites to win the state championship and showed why tonight.
After finishing runner-up in 2018 and winning state in 2019, the young Panthers appear to be set up well for years to come.