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Kingston’s unbeaten season came to a close Friday night as the Jackets spotted the Lenoir City Panthers a 21-7 halftime lead and fell 28-20 despite a fourth quarter rally.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Kingston head coach Vic King said. “Lenoir City took the war to us in the first half and we made some mistakes that helped them. I didn’t have our guys ready to play tonight and that’s my fault.
“But we didn’t quit and we took it to them in the second half. We just dug ourselves too big of a hole.”
Kingston got off to a rough start Friday as Lenoir City’s Daniel Gross picked off a Darren Mossing pass just three plays into the game and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 10:32 left in the first period.
Kingston, however, recovered nicely from the early turnover and marched 75 yards in 14 plays to tie the game at 7-7 with 4:19 left in the opening period.
Kingston kept to the ground throughout the drive as 13 of the 14 plays were runs. Darian Sams opened the drive with a 30-yard drive then Sams, Aaron Fielden and Coty Groves took turns pounding the defense before Groves scored on a one yard run.
Andy Spellman added the PAT.
The rest of the half didn’t go as well for the Jackets.
Lenoir City regained the lead on their next possession as Tanner Wilson capped an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a three-yard run that made the score 14-7 with 11:56 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers scored again on their next possession as with 6:13 left in the first half, Jordan Hall hooked up with Cole Lombardo for a 10-yard score on fourth-and-six to cap a nine-play, 60-yard drive.
Kingston thought they got one of those scores back on their next possession as Mossing hooked up with Aaron Fielden for a 75-yard score, but the points were taken off the board thanks to a holding penalty in the backfield.
After forcing a short punt, the Panthers seemed ready to deliver the knockout blow before halftime.
Starting from the Jacket 32, Lenoir City drove to the Kingston 5 before a holding penalty of their own took a Hall five-yard scoring scamper off the board.
The penalty along with a Demarcus Foster sack pushed the Panthers back to the 28.
Lenoir City did try a 45-yard field goal on the last play of the half, but the attempt was wide right.
The third quarter would see Kingston’s defense come to life as Jordan Jones recovered a Panther fumble to end Lenoir City’s first drive of the second half then Caleb Kennedy picked off a pass to end the Panthers second possession.
Kingston’s offense, however, couldn’t take advantage of the turnovers as one first down and 16 total yards were all the Jackets tallied in the third period.
The Jacket defense forced a three-and-out to start the final period and then the Jacket offense came to life.
Sparked by a Fielden run of 14 yards on a fake punt, Kingston drove 68 yards in 13 plays with Mossing hooking up with Robbie Szozda from 23 yards out for the score.
Spellman’s PAT made the score 21-14 with 6:06 left to play.
After exchanging possessions, Lenoir City seemed to put the game away with 3:07 left to play when Cody Wright broke free for a 43-yard score to make the score 28-14.
Kingston, however, still refused to quit.
Starting from the 20 after the kickoff, the Jackets put together a five-play scoring drive that ended in a bizarre 53-yard touchdown pass from Mossing to Szozda. On the play, a whistle sounded from the Lenoir City stands, but the ever-alert Szozda knew the play wasn’t dead as he raced into the end zone to make the score 28-20 with 1:15 left to play.
Kingston’s PAT was no good.
There would be no miracle finish though as Lenoir City recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
Lenoir City out gained Kingston on the night in total yardage, 291-244.
The Panthers ran the ball 41 times for 194 yards with Wright leading the way with 159 yards and one TD on 21 carries.
Hall added 97 yards through the air as he completed 7 of 10 passes.
Mossing paced Kingston’s offense as he completed 9 of 18 passes for 126 yards with two TDs.
Szozda was Mossing’s favorite target as he caught four passes for 89 yards with two touchdowns.
The Jackets ran the ball 36 times for 118 yards with Groves’ 47 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries leading the way.
Next up for Kingston (4-1) is a District 4-AA contest at six-time defending state champion Alcoa (6-0).
“Next week is a big game for us because it’s a district game,” King said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge, but they put their britches on one leg at a time just like us.”
Rushing- Fielden 13-36, Groves 11-47 with 1 TD, Foster 3-1, Mossing 3-(-8), Sams 6-42.
Passing- Mossing 9-18 for 126 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT.
Receiving- Kennedy 1-5, Fielden 2-24, Szozda 4-89 with 2 TDs, Groves 1-0, Jones 1-8.