Both the Harlan County Black Bears and Harlan Green Dragons will be playing defending state runner-up teams in the Southeastern Kentucky Conference Gridorama this week.
Harlan County will play Wayne County on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Lynn Camp High School and Harlan will take on former district rival Williamsburg on Friday at 6 at Pineville.
Wayne County is coming off the best season in school history as the Cardinals won their first 14 games before suffering a 3-0 loss to Belfry in the 3A state finals.
Wayne lost star quarterback Tyler Guffey and 15 other seniors to graduation.
Senior running back Kadameion Branham was the second leading rusher for the Cardinals last year with 628 yards and eight touchdowns.
Harlan County was also hit hard by graduation from last year’s 8-4 team that fell to Madison Southern in the regional semifinals. The Bears do bring back three senior offensive linemen — Zach Caldwell, Gary Helton and Bo Harris. The Bears also return senior defensive linemen Bobby Huff, Hunter Lewis and J.T. Cabell. Senior receiver/cornerback Nick Cornett also returns.
Williamsburg was 11-3 last season and also made the deepest playoff run in school history, dowing Hazard 21-7 in the regional finals and Raceland 34-7 in the state semifinals before falling 42-0 to Mayfield in the Class A state championship game.
Dalton Sizemore and his 2,868 passing yards are gone; but most of Sizemore’s favorite targets on offense are back for their senior years, including Skyler Griffith (46 catches for 884 yards), who shifts to quarterback. The Jackets also added one of the state’s top running backs in senior Fred Massey, a transfer from Harlan County who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season against 5A competition.
The top 10 tacklers from a year ago are back from a unit that collected five shutouts, led by senior linebackers Jefferson Patrick (and his team-high 155 tackles) and Michael Rose-Creekmore, along with standout senior tackle Chris Helton. Massey, a starter at linebacker for the Bears, also joins the unit.
Also back on offense are Corey Shelton, who had 54 catches for 1,127 yards; Chase Lowrie, who had 28 catches for 435 yards; and Creekmore, who added 19 catches for 148 yards. Patrick ran for 726 yards and scored 12 touchdowns at fullback.