The focus for the Panther Creek football team this offseason is as simple as it gets: improve the defense.
Last year’s Catamounts were an offensive juggernaut at times, averaging 35.5 points per game and topping the 48-point mark on four occasions. But the defense gave up a corresponding 36.6 per game and allowed teams to reach the 48-point mark six times.
“A lot of it was just football awareness at those positions. Some things that you need to correct and get better from, from game-to-game, we just didn’t,” Panther Creek football coach Sean Crocker said. “We’ve got to be able to learn and adjust from mistakes, and we just didn’t. We made the same mistakes all year long.”
Any reason for optimism on defense?
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Southwest Wake 4A coaches think Panther Creek will be improved on defense, picking the Catamounts fourth. The front four is its strongest group – linebacker Ivoree Atkinson is moving to defensive end – while the secondary breaks in a lot of new faces.
“Our guys want to bounce back in a big way, but we’ve got to put them in positions to be successful,” Crocker said. “Some of them will be first-year starters who haven’t played at all, so we’ll have to play to their strengths and put them in positions where they’re comfortable.”
Who are some players to watch?
Wideout Justin Smalls (841 yards receiving, 11 TDs) was a co-special teams player of the year thanks to two kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Anthony Burlingame takes over at quarterback as a senior which worked well last year (first-time starter Dom Samson threw for 3,000 yards in his senior year). Running back Addison Pinkney will start after getting a lot of reps the last two years. Defensive linemen Ben Williams and Brandon Bennett were all-conference selections last year.
How does the schedule look?
State power Scotland County is off the schedule and replaced by new conference foe Apex Friendship, but Crocker always schedules tough: Wake Forest is up first followed by a Leesville Road team that should be improved. The Catamounts need to be healthy more than other teams: Panther Creek’s bye week is the last week of the season.
More on the Catamounts
Last year: 4-7 (2-5 Southwest Wake 4A)
Five year average: 7-5 (4-3)
Preseason N&O rank: Unranked
Defense: 4-3, 4-2-5
Coaches: Sean Crocker (HC/OC), Anthony Sullivan (DC/DBs), Brian Cox (OL/head JV), Justin Jayne (WRs), Chris White (WRs), Phil Lauria (OL), Harris Hite (OL), Justin Isberg (DL), Lance Brown (DL), Isaac Bristol (LBs), Kyle Clark (DBs)
Contributors: Anthony Burlingame (Sr., QB), Addison Pinkney (Sr., RB), Justin Smalls (Sr., WR), J. Johnson (Sr., WR), Dylan Fick (Sr., OL), Dylan Smith (Jr., OL), Ivoree Atkinson (Sr., DL), Ben Williams (Sr., DL), Brandon Bennett (Sr., DL), Ryan Wills (Sr., LB), Hayden Plunkett (Sr., LB)
The main number: 4 – The Catamounts had four different players who returned kickoffs for touchdown: Smalls and J. Johnson and the now-graduated Diamante Taylor and Isaiah Laster.
Aug. 19 vs. Wake Forest, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Leesville Road, 7 p.m.
Sep. 2 at Jordan, 7 p.m.
Sep. 9* vs. Cary, 7 p.m.
Sep. 16* at Middle Creek, 7 p.m.
Sep. 23* vs. Apex Friendship, 7 p.m.
Sep. 30* at Athens Drive, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7* vs. Green Hope, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14* at Holly Springs, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21* vs. Apex, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28* at Fuquay-Varina, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 BYE
Note: *Conference game.