With the postseason just seven days away, now is the time many teams start looking ahead to the opening week of the state playoffs. That won’t be the case for Harlan County, as the Black Bears’ full attention will be on a trip to Log Mountain and a matchup with rival Bell County.
“Right now we are not even worried about the playoffs. I feel like this is a must win for us,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “I don’t think there is a team on our schedule that is more of a rivalry right now. That includes Letcher Central and a few of our district games.”
“This will be a good measuring stick for us. These are two good programs that have a lot of pride and represent the mountains well. It’s good for mountain football that Harlan County and Bell County are so close and both play good football,” said Bell County coach Wayne Mils.
Both teams enter Friday’s contest playing as well as they have all season. Harlan County dominated district opponents in three straight blowout victories. Meanwhile, Bell County has also won three in a row, including a big victory over district rival Corbin just two weeks ago.
“Bell County has a good football team. I have watched them a whole lot. I have been competing with Bell County for many years. I am real familiar with the kind of kids they have got, the coaching staff and the work they put in,” Larkey said. “They are going to go out there on the field and play hard against you. It will be a real tough game for us.”
Harlan County has cruised through district play thanks to an unstoppable ground game and stingy defense. The Black Bears had piled up at least 370 yards rushing in each of their last three outings. The defensive side of the ball has been equally impressive. Ovie Canady’s unit has allowed just eight points per game against district opponents.
“It’s no secret they are going to line up and run it at us. Then, they have (Cole) Wilson out there they can throw the ball to. They will try to bully us. They can wear you down if they have long drives. We have to get off the field and try to get some stops,” Mills said. ““We just have to sustain some drives. They bring a lot of pressure led by Carson Whitehead. Wilson does a great job coming off the edge. We have to be able to meet their pressure and try to sustain some drives that end with scores.”
The Bell County defense has been just as successful as of late. The Bobcats have given up only eight points total in three district straight district wins, including shutout victories over Corbin and Casey County.
“One thing I believe is that any team can play defense. It’s an attitude. You have to go out there and play your hardest, and the kids have bought into that. They are not real big, but they get after it and swarm to the football,” Mills said.
The Bobcats have relied on a run game by committee this season. Bell County features several options in the backfield, including juniors Austin Caldwell and Evan Brock.
“We are going to have to stop the run first. They have two or three good running backs. I think we both play similar style of football,” Larkey said.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.