Most picked Whitley County as the biggest threat to end Harlan County’s streak of three straight district titles before the start of the 2013 season. Seven games later the Colonels are still winless, and you likely won’t find anyone giving them much of a chance to snap Harlan County’s 13-game district winning streak when they play host to the Black Bears today.
“At the beginning of the year, the Harlan County game was a big game for us, but considering the circumstances, now we’re taking it week by week,” said Whitley County coach Jim Black. “That is really the best approach we can take to any game. We’re still working to improve and to do things correctly to give us a chance to win the game.”
The Bears have experienced their own stumbling blocks this season, but appeared to get back on track with a 49-7 rout of rival Letcher Central in last week’s district opener.
“We’re trying to get better. We hope we can improve this week and play a good football game. It is real important to us that we win the game,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “I really expect them to go in there like any other team and expect a good hard fought game. We will have to play hard to win.”
Whitley County’s biggest strength is in the backfield, where sophomore tailback Zach Mills and junior Austin Ysidro, moved from quarterback to fullback, form a formidable duo.
“They have a lot of good athletes in the backfield. We have to watch out for that. We can’t go in and be asleep and expect to win the game,” Larkey said. “They have the Mills kid back now, and he has got a lot of speed. They moved Ysidro back to fullback, and he is a good athlete.”
While there is talent back in the backfield, the Colonels have struggled along the offensive front. Those struggles could continue this week, as Whitley will be without its starting center. The Harlan County defense will provide a difficult test for the Colonels. The Bears have allowed just over 13-points to in-state teams this season, and Whitley County has struggled with turnovers all year.
“We are still focusing on taking care of the football, after two more turnovers last week. No team in the state can win games when they are putting the ball on the ground three and four times a game,” said Black. “We have to continue to work on getting better and doing things correctly. That’s the only way you’re going to win games.”
Slowing down the Harlan County offense will also be a difficult task for Whitley County. The Black Bears turned in one of their most balanced performances of the season last week. Junior Fred Massey led a ground game that piled up 371 yards and four touchdowns. Scotty Bailey was solid through the air, completing seven passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Harlan County took better care of the football last week after being plagued by fumbles in each of their previous two outings. Larkey said his squad has continued to focus on fundamentals this week.
“We have done nothing but work on fundamentals, ball control and hanging on to the football. Football is fundamental. We have really worked hard, and it will pay off for us in the end,” he said.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.