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Local Sports

Cardinals take on Panthers in home opener

Pregame Outlook —

Home opener. Enough said.

Newton’s Cardinal football team plays at home for the first time in 2013 Friday. Knoxville High’s Panthers come to H.A. Lynn Stadium.

The Cardinals and Panthers lost their season opening games last week. Newton dropped a 19-13 overtime decision at Norwalk. The Panthers lost 21-13 to Prairie City-Monroe.

Friday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff will be the 100th game of the Newton-Knoxville series. A year ago at Knoxville, the Panthers clawed out a 12-6 win over the Cardinals. This is a non-district contest, but the rivalry is there as both teams are in the Little Hawkeye Conference in the other sports.

“We did a lot of things pretty well last week. Our defense was very solid against the run and we had a couple coverage breakdowns in the passing game. Offensively, we stretched Norwalk and got the ball on the edge in our running game like we wanted,” said Ed Ergenbright, Cardinal head coach.

“We want to continue to run on the perimeter and force teams to cover us from sideline to sideline. One thing, we’re working on is being able to run better between the tackles. We have to establish our inside running game better.”

Knoxville comes into the game relying on juniors and underclassmen with only 10 seniors on the roster. Ergenbright pointed out the Panthers’ juniors and underclassmen are pretty athletic.

Take junior Tanner Dunkin for example. Dunkin is the starting tailback but also lines up as quarterback and receiver for the Panthers. Dunkin rushed for 56 yards in the loss to PCM last week plus caught two touchdown passes from junior quarterback Jared McClung.

The Panthers’ top defensive players are juniors Jac Agan and Luke Bachman and senior Brandon Iddings.

“The Dunkin kids is fast and very versatile. Knoxville still spreads you out with its offense. We’ve been working on being assignment sound on defense. We worked on things we saw on film that we needed to improve on defensively. We have to get off the field defensively, not allowing Knoxville to have long drives or big plays,” Ergenbright said.

Offensively, the Cardinals will continue to attack teams on the outside with the run to help open the inside running game. Ergenbright said early last week, the Cardinals were moving the ball well on the ground so the passing game wasn’t a major issue.

“With Tyler (Wood) as our quarterback, we want to use the passing game more than we did last week. Running the ball is our priority. When you run it well, you can utilize the passing game to keep defenses guessing,” Ergenbright said.

“We have to do better converting on third-down situations and sustaining drives. We have to limit our turnovers.”

Injuries and illness have limited several Newton starters this week in practice. Ergenbright said the Cardinals have had back-up players working in positions this week to be prepared for Friday night, in case the starters aren’t healthy enough to play.

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