Matt Brannon has been connected to the Daviess County High School football program in one form or another for the better part of two decades, but the seventh-year head coach has never been part of anything quite like what the Panthers produced this fall.

Led by senior quarterback Joe Humphreys, a Kentucky Mr. Football candidate, Daviess County finished 9-1 in the regular season, won the regular season Class 6-A district championship and closed out the regular season with seven consecutive victories.

Add it all up and Brannon, 42, was selected Messenger-Inquirer Area Coach of the Year for the 2021 season.

“I’ve been blessed to have worked with so many great coaches through the years — David Barnes, Marcus Kimbrell, so many others, and I’ve learned a lot from all of them,” said Brannon, a Muhlenberg County native. “I think of (DCHS assistants) Chris Renfrow and Barney Hall, who have been with me here at DC since 2004, I think of our coordinators Jordan Leach (offense) and Quadarius Wallace (defense); unsung heroes who make the program what it is.

“I’m a DC guy now. This is my home. We’ve all worked very hard to get the program where it is today.”

As recently as 2020, however, the Panthers — victimized primarily by a leaky defense — struggled to a 3-5 record and lost at Henderson County in the first round of the playoffs.

A dramatic transformation, however, took place this fall.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish this season,” said Brannon, who played football at Muhlenberg North High School and Kentucky Wesleyan College. “It’s been redemption to see this group step up, accept the challenge in front of them and then go out on the field each week and play to their potential — this has been really satisfying to everyone connected with the program.

“A year of experience, one more year of seasoning, really helped this group. They believe in us, as a staff, and they believe in and trust each other. That led to us playing with and coaching with complete confidence the entire season. It’s been a great turnaround for our program.”

Not only did the Panthers shore up their defensive production in dramatic fashion, Brannon and Co. also overcame the loss of game-breaking junior running back Bryson Parm, who rushed for over 1,000 yards as a sophomore, to a broken collarbone in the preseason. Senior Gunnar Evans stepped into the void and had a stellar season.

“That’s that next-man-up mentality you have to have if you’re going to have a winning program,” Brannon said. “We knew even last year that this group had the potential to be great, and it was just a matter of all of us, players and coaches, stepping up and reaching that potential.”

It all added up to the perfect storm for Daviess County, which averaged 45.9 points per game, while surrendering only 18.3.

The team’s lone regular season loss?

A narrow 49-42 setback to Class 5-A powerhouse Owensboro on Sept. 3 at Reid Stadium.

“Well, it’s been a very fun season, and with this Air Raid-type offense we play, a fun brand of football,” Brannon said, “but you can’t do that without a committed coaching staff or without talented and dynamic players.

“And, we’ve learned to step back and enjoy it. Every time we win, we go celebrate it afterward. We’re letting it sink in this year, and we’re enjoying the whole moment — and, fortunately we’ve had a lot of moments to enjoy.”

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