The Harlan Green Dragons picked the wrong opponent for Senior Night.
Visiting Haysi, Va., racked up 461 yards of offense and used a stellar performance by Jeffery Bowen to cruise to a 52-7 victory over the Dragons on Friday.
Bowen, a senior, rushed for 330 yards on only 13 carries and scored six touchdowns to lead the Tigers offense.
“By far the best team we’ve faced this year,” Harlan coach J.B. Donahue said. “I wasn’t sure, watching film – I knew they were as good as Middlesboro or Hazard or anybody else we’ve faced, but they’re the best team we’ve faced. They’re strong, they’re physical, they’ve got speed. There aren’t a lot of them, but they’re very fundamentally sound. They’ve got a heck of a good football team.”
Haysi (10-0) was equally impressive on defense, swarming to Harlan’s ball carriers and limiting the Dragons to 79 yards of offense with solid tackling.
“They’re big and strong, and they run to the football well,” Donahue said. “We knew any success we had would be some sort of misdirection, and we were hoping to get a little success out of the quick passing game. I told our kids, I’m just glad we weren’t laying up there with bandages everywhere. Physically, we handled it; they were just bigger and stronger and faster than us.”
Harlan (2-8) was without one of its top offensive weapons for most of the first half, as senior Cory Chorak lost his helmet on the first play of the game and sustained a cut over his eye, requiring a trip to the hospital for stitches. Chorak still led the Dragons’ offense with 36 yards on five carries.
The Tigers scored their first two touchdowns on two offensive snaps. After forcing the Dragons to go three-and-out to start the game, Bowen took a handoff and raced 71 yards to the end zone. Bowen missed the extra point attempt.
Harlan again went three-and-out, and Haysi’s Robbie Yates blocked the punt as the Tigers took over at the Harlan 45. Quarterback Jalen Sykes connected with Tanner O’Quinn for another score, and Sykes ran for the two-point conversion to give Haysi a 14-0 lead with 7:34 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers added two more touchdowns– a 54-yard scamper by Bowen and a 9-yard run by O’Quinn – to take a 26-0 lead after one quarter.
Bowen added his third touchdown on a 44-yard run early in the second quarter. After the teams exchanged fumbles and Harlan punted again, Bowen took a handoff on the first snap of the possession and raced up the sideline 72 yards for another score, giving the Tigers a 40-0 cushion and starting the running clock with 5:47 left in the half.
Bowen added one more touchdown on a 12-yard run as the horn sounded to close the first half.
The Tigers had their longest drive of the game to open the third quarter, marching 60 yards in eight plays. Sykes completed three passes on the drive, all to O’Quinn, but it was – who else? – Bowen who rumbled the last 7 yards into the end zone to close the Tigers’ scoring with 5:15 left in the period. The Dragons fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Haysi went to its reserves.
Harlan ended the shutout bid late in the fourth quarter as senior Will Slusher bulled his way into the end zone from 2 yards out for his first career touchdown.
“It was special for Will. A lot of people don’t realize that, but Will had never been in the end zone for us. He’s such a good kid and does so many things right, and we wanted to get him in the end zone at the end of the game,” Donahue said.
The coach praised his team’s senior leadership throughout what has been a very difficult season.
“It’s easy to lead when you’re 11-2. It’s a whole lot tougher to lead when you’re 2-8, and these guys have really been leaders,” he said. “We have 22 kids, and we never had more than 24 (this season). We’ve only lost two kids off a 2-8 team, and that says a lot.
“These kids have been upbeat. They like each other, they like being around each other. I can’t say enough about them. Cory said he wouldn’t trade this place to be anywhere else – it’s still special. It’s a special place, and a special group of kids.”
Harlan, which earned a No. 3 seed in the playoffs with last week’s rout of Jenkins, returns to action next Friday at Campbellsville in the first round of the Class A playoffs.
“They’re very athletic,” Donahue said. “I haven’t seen them yet; I told the kids I wouldn’t look ahead, and I haven’t. I’ll get in and start studying film this weekend, but Campbellsville’s always athletic, so I’m sure they will be. We’ll go from there.”
The Tigers close out their regular season next week at home against Honaker, Va.