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By David Sharp
A powerful performance from Milan along the front lines paved the way for the Wildcats (9-1) to out gain Knox County by a 456-88 yard margin in a 44-6 Milan win in Class 1, District 7 football play at Milan.
Knox County seniors Conner Hayes, Elliott Ogden, Colten McCarty, Matthew Carlson, Floyd Miller and Coltin Morrow played their final football games in a Knox County uniform.
The contest also marked the likely close of 57 years of Knox County High School participating in 11 man football. The District made the decision to transition to 8 man football beginning with the 2021 season.
Knox County began their 11 man football program in 1963 with two current Hall of Fame coaches. LaVerne Dabney was the head coach. Mr. Dabney is a member of the Truman State University Football Hall of Fame.
Kenny Roberts was the assistant football coach. Mr. Roberts was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield for his accomplishments as a basketball coach.
Knox County’s opponent in their final game of the 2020 football season is coached by former Knox County head football and baseball coach John Dabney. Coach Dabney is an Edina native and is LaVerne Dabney’s son.
“You have to go out and execute each week no matter who you play,” John Dabney said during post game comments. “I still think we are playing on borrowed time,” Coach Dabney said referring to an increase in Covid-19 cases in Sullivan County and the surrounding area.
“You have to go out and enjoy every opportunity you have to play the game,” Dabney said. “This is the way our world is, and the way things have been shaking down this week.”
“Our guys have been consistent all year. It all starts up front,” John Dabney said. “When you have good backs to go with that you are probably going to be pretty successful.”
Knox County played with around seven reserve players in uniform. Knox County had around a 50% student participation rate for varsity football this season. The average participation has been around 30% in recent years.
Declining enrollment, as well as a low number of boys in the KC school system now and projected over the next four to six years was one of the reasons cited for the transition to 8 man football.
Knox County was without quarterback Conner Hayes due to injury. The Eagles shifted receiver Coltin Morrow to quarterback, moved lineman Matthew Carlson to fullback and switched to a wishbone offense for their final game.
The move was made to try and take time off the clock, keeping the Milan offense off the field. Knox County runners had little room to operate most of the night. Milan had as many as three defenders in the offensive backfield as soon as running backs touched the football.
Knox County (2-7) punted on their first two possessions. Milan scored on their first two possessions. Dominic Dabney ran six yards for a Wildcat touchdown with 8:26 to play in the first quarter. Deric Doporto ran in the two point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
Milan drove 67 yards for their second touchdown of the contest. Fullback Deric Doporto rumbled 41 yards for a score with 4:35 remaining in the opening period. Dominic Dabney ran in the conversion for a 16-0 edge.
Knox County punted, then recovered a Milan fumble on the Wildcat 33 yard line. Safety Mallan Cole intercepted a fourth down Colt Morrow pass. Milan took over on their 11 yard line.
Bryce Sinclair capped an 89 yard drive with a ten yard run with 6:44 to play in the second quarter. Christian Chaparro kicked the point after touchdown for a 23-0 Milan lead.
Milan led 23-0 at intermission. Dominic Dabney sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown, capping a 70 yard drive with 11:16 to play in the third quarter for a 29-0 lead. John Ray De La Cruz ran the ball in from 16 yards out for a 36-0 Milan lead after Chaparro booted the extra point with 6:26 to play in the third quarter.
The clock ran continuously by the Missouri Mercy Rule. Milan led 36-0 after three quarters. Darren Doporto scored from seven yards out for a 44-0 lead.
Milan inserted their JV team into the contest in the fourth quarter. Knox County got the ball back one more time near the end of the game.
Senior Elliott Ogden scored his first touchdown of the season, on the final play of his high school football career with 25 seconds in the game from 16 yards out. Time expired on the Knox County 2020 football season, and on the Eagle 11 man football program with a 44-6 defeat.
Milan held a 22-4 advantage in first downs on the night. Knox County rushed 28 times for 78 yards and the Elliott Ogden touchdown. Ogden led the Eagles in rushing with 11 carries for 64 yards and a score.
Knox County was 1-4 passing for ten yards and an interception against. Keaton Strange had the ten yard pass catch. Knox County did not have an accepted penalty against them by unofficial count.
Milan had two touchdowns taken off the board due to penalties. The Wildcats had five penalties for 55 yards in a generally cleanly played game. Darren Doporto led all ground gainers with 13 carries for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
Dominic Dabney was 9-160 yards rushing with two scores. John Ray De La Cruz had three carries for 49 yards and a Milan touchdown. Mallan Cole was 1-3 passing for 25 yards on the night. Dominic Dabney had the 25 yard reception.
Milan had three quarterback sacks on the night. Darren Doporto, Jacob Jaimes and Jordan Ponce had the Wildcat sacks. Milan hosts Princeton in the District 7 semifinal round on November 6, 2020.
South Harrison will host Hamilton-Penney in the other district semifinal. Both Penney and South Harrison advanced when Putnam County and Gallatin forfeited their first round district games.
Princeton-Mercer downed Scotland County by a 40-12 final in the other District 7 first round game.
“Playing Knox one more time, it’s been 15 years since I have been there,” John Dabney said of the fact that his father coached the first Knox County 11 man football game and he coached against the Eagles in their final 11 man football game.
“Obviously when you are coming back to a place where you have played, you are an alumni there. You are also an alumni coach from there. Your Dad started it there. Those games in 2006 and 2007 were important to me. They were conference games,” John Dabney said.
“From that, you have to move on in life,” Coach Dabney said. “The Good Lord has blessed me in life right now. Life is going to give you adversity. I think those kids have responded really well.”
“Even putting something different in this week. I have been there. I told Coach (Bruce) Vannoy that. I just had to smile and say this was meant to be knowing Knox County is going into 8 man football,” John Dabney said of the finality on the Knox County side.
“Our best wishes to them. You think you are trying to do the right thing. I have full faith as an alumni and understanding that people like (Knox County Athletic Director) Keith Gudehus, a former teammate that you are in very good hands trying to make the proper decision for Eagle football in the future.”
“I will always have a special place in my heart. It’s home,” Coach Dabney said. The Knox County fifth and sixth grade football program was started in 1998 with John Dabney coaching at Knox County.
“Just being associated with it one more time is an early birthday present. I just couldn’t have asked for anything more than to be out on the field with the Knox County Eagles.”
“We didn’t have Conner (Hayes). Obviously that is a huge blow for our team offensively and defensively,” Knox County coach Bruce Vannoy said. “That changes who we are.”
“With the world the way it is, we ended up missing four guys at practice this week,” Bruce Vannoy said. “We didn’t get them back until yesterday. Game planning was a little difficult this week.”
“That doesn’t take away from anything Milan did tonight,” Coach Vannoy said. “We prepared the best we could. We had to move some guys around. We went a little longer yesterday and our walk through today just so we could get prepared.”
“We did some nice things. We played a great team. The better team walked out with the W,” Vannoy said. “We are excited to make the transition. Our speed is something we are going to focus on,” Coach Vannoy said about the preparations for next season.
“Hopefully we will get in the weight room too. We still want to be physical,” Coach Vannoy said talking about the Eagle future in eight man football. I was really impressed with how our guys played this year.”
“I would say this was probably the hardest hitting team overall that we have had in a while,” Bruce Vannoy said talking about the overall 2020 football season. “If we continue to develop that speed and get a little bigger everywhere, it will be interesting to see next year.”
“I really wanted to give him the end zone,” Coach Vannoy said talking about Elliott Ogden and the 2020 football seniors. “He has been a great back for us the last two years. He made a great run and got himself in there.”
“This group of seniors is my first class. I took them over when I got the head coaching job,” Bruce Vannoy said. “I probably got more from them than they got from me. This was a great group and they will be severely missed.”
“This is a group that has always worked. They have been great leaders for us. I never had to question their work ethic or where their heart was,” Bruce Vannoy said. “They led by example and they led in the classroom.”
“We are going to miss them. I think the atmosphere they helped create is going to help in the transition,” Coach Vannoy said. “Hopefully that will be the culture of our club going forward.”