KUTZTOWN – Richie Smith's rushing numbers stand out. But he's not very interested in them. All he cares about is that for the first time in three years as a starter for Panther Valley, he's on a winning team three weeks into the season.
The Panthers rolled to a 54-24 win over Kutztown Friday night, spoiling the Cougars homecoming.
Smith piled up 223 yards and six rushing touchdowns on just 13 carries.
"We challenge Richie every day to be the best player on the field," said Panther Valley head coach Lon Hazlet. "He's worked very hard and he deserves all the credit he gets. When we need big plays, he makes them. He really has all the tools."
The 6-foot, 220-pound senior helped his team build a 35-0 lead in the second quarter. He scored on touchdowns runs of 9, 45 and 50 yards in the first quarter.
The Panthers got another score on a 67-yard pass from Matthew Levitt to Kyle Ferryman before Smith plunged in from 2 yards out for his fourth touchdown of the first half with 7:54 left in the game.
He had 131 yards on 10 carries in the first half.
"I don't really care about the stats," Smith said. "I don't care about the touchdowns. I do it for my team. The line does it for me, I do it for them. Our quarterback takes fakes, he takes hits. It's a whole team aspect. That's why what happened tonight happened."
For a quarter and a half the Panthers were unstoppable. But the Cougars didn't roll over.
A Kutztown touchdown and a field goal in the second quarter made it 35-10 at halftime.
Smith went 38 yards on his second carry of the second half to make it 41-10, but the Cougars answered with pair of scores that made it 41-24 with 11:55 left in the game.
"If there's blame to be given out, I'll take it," said Hazlet. "I should have put the hammer down up 35-0. I kind of called off the dogs a little bit and they were able to maintain a little momentum. I'm not a rookie and that's a rookie mistake."
It was a situation the Panthers haven't been in for a long time. But they didn't let the Cougars any closer.
When the Panthers got the ball back, they handed to their workhorse on first down and Smith went 51 yards for his sixth rushing touchdown of the game. He added a seventh score when he picked off a Tucker Maletta pass and ran it 31 yards to pay dirt for a 54-24 lead with 10:47 left in the game.
"That's the first time we were up that high," Smith said of his team's early lead. "Not last year or two years ago."
Through that first quarter and a half, in building the 35-0 lead, Panther Valley had outgained the Cougars 299 yards to 18 yards. The Panther defense stuffed Kutztown (0-3) for five negative-yardage plays through those first 16 minutes, led by end Richard Nase, who led the team with four tackles for loss and one batted pass.
Panther Valley quarterback Levitt threw with efficiency, completing five of 11 passes with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for 70 yards on 10 carries.
After a pair of one-win seasons, the Panthers (2-1) are above .500 heading into next week's game at Jim Thorpe.
"I'm overwhelmed with joy," Smith said. "It feels good to come out here and win. This will carry beyond the next couple games in confidence and motivation. This is the first time in two years we've won two games."