Sep. 23—Entering the 2022 high school football campaign, Daviess County players heard the chatter about how the Panthers were expected to take a step back now that their star quarterback was gone — and it didn't take long for all the talk to get on their nerves.
Of course, anytime someone who's so synonymous with a program moves on — Joe Humphreys, in this case — it's difficult for those outside of the locker room to process how things will function moving forward. For coach Matt Brannon's squad, though, there was never a doubt.
Following DC's City-County victory over Owensboro Catholic in the second week of the season, standout wide receiver/defensive back Decker Renfrow may have put it best.
"It's a new team," he said after snagging four interceptions with one returned for a touchdown, along with a receiving score against the Aces. "I'm tired of hearing about Joe Humphreys. He was a heck of a player, but I'm tired of hearing about it. This is a new team."
As it turns out, for a squad that's featured such a prolific offensive attack in recent seasons, it's the Panthers' defense that's been turning heads in the first half of the season.
After five games, DC (3-2) is limiting opponents to 17.4 points per contest and holding foes to 275.8 yards per outing — 148 yards per game on the ground and 127.8 yards per game through the air.
Though those aren't necessarily eye-popping statistics, it's steady improvement from last year's defensive unit that gave up nearly 22 points and 291 yards of total offense per game. Football is a game of inches, after all, and every little bit counts.
Heading into the second half of the season, the Panthers have shown they have all the tools to be a shutdown defensive squad even with some of their best players performing on both sides of the ball.
Renfrow leads the state with seven interceptions, three of which he's returned for touchdowns. He's also forced a fumble, on top of serving as DC's top downfield threat for quarterbacks Jack Ball and Lake Wilson on offense.
As a team, the Panthers have already made 15 interceptions — a staggering number considering they grabbed 16 picks in the entirety of 2021.
DC is showing an ability to get to opposing quarterbacks with 15 sacks — four each by Luke Floyd and Damarien Garner — after totaling 28 in 13 games last season.
The Panthers, led by Tyler Beehn's 49 tackles, are averaging eight less stops per game compared to a season ago. What that means is DC is using fewer defensive plays to limit opponents and force punts. Over the course of an entire season, that's a huge metric to sustain.
By simply watching the Panthers on defense, you can tell that there's a belief and a confidence about them that has translated into success.
In Friday's 28-13 win over visiting Madisonville-North Hopkins at Reid Stadium, DC limited the Maroons to their lowest point total in four weeks. Madisonville had averaged 43 points in their previous three outings.
Instead, the Panthers showed that they're willing to get into the proverbial mud and fight it out in a defensive battle. And all of that came after two consecutive road losses to Owensboro and Ryle, which only goes to show DC's resolve and ability to bounce back.
With five games remaining on the regular season schedule, including Friday's Class 6-A, District 1 opener at Marshall County, the Panthers have put themselves in position for a strong showing in district play.
Led by a swarming, opportunistic defense, DC will give itself a chance to win every week.