The scene was all too familiar for Donahue, who has watched seven of his 13 seasons as Harlan coach end with a loss to Pikeville all but one on Hillard Howard Field.
"I'm getting tired of ending my year over here. It just ain't real fun, to be real honest," Donahue said. "But that's my ambition for Harlan's program, that it becomes the ground that everybody stops their season on. My hat's off to Pikeville, and we hope to get to where they're at."
Pikeville (8-3) won the game with a dominating defense, strong special teams and a handful of big plays on offense.
Senior quarterback Chase Huffman, who lost his job as a starter to John Michael Mayo, provided several of the big plays in the second half when he returned to his old position, running for 114 yards on only five carries, including two touchdowns. Senior tailback Weston Robinson added 85 yards and one touchdown.
The Panthers opened the game determined to throw the football with three- and four-receiver sets sets out of the shotgun. But the plan didn't work the way the Pikeville coaches had hoped with only 57 yards through the air.
"We weren't executing, but thank God we have the kind of team who can do both, and one is a little better than the other," Pikeville coach Mike Jackson admitted. "We also knew that if we started off throwing the ball, it would loosen them up a little bit on the run. We hurt them on the trap."
Pikeville spent most of the game on the Harlan side of the field, capitalizing on an uncharacteristically bad punting night for Will Pope, whose first three kicks went 21, 16 and 14 yards, as well as three interceptions thrown by sophomore quarterback Chase Jones and the Dragons' inability to move the football.
"We never could turn the field over in our favor," Donahue said. "Either by turnover or just not moving the ball, we never could get the field turned over in our favor. I think that made a big difference. They were playing on their half of the field most of the night."
Harlan senior tailback Teddy Thompson, the region's top-rated player in the preseason, was limited to 60 yards on 16 carries by the Panthers.
"Quickness on defense was big for us," Jackson said. "Teddy Thompson is one of the best running backs I've ever seen, and for him to have the kind of game he had tonight. ... our defense really stepped up to the occasion. When you play a great back, your defense has to play extra special."
Harlan (5-6) could manage only 46 yards on the ground and was limited to four first downs.
"Defense and special teams were the keys tonight," Jackson said. "We had things open offensively and just didn't execute. I told our kids at halftime we should have been ahead 35-0.
"We had guys wide open down the middle and couldn't hit them. That's a testament to Harlan. When we had kids open and didn't get them the ball, they had somebody back there in our quarterback's face. Coach Donahue and coach (Eric) Perry did a great job coaching."
Pikeville struck quickly on its first possession, driving 61 yards in four plays. Robinson weaved his way through the Harlan defense for a 33-yard touchdown run with 10:04 left in the opening quarter. Max Pafunda's extra point gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
A Jacob Sword interception with 7:01 to play in the quarter set up Pikeville's next score, a 22-yard field goal by Pafunda in the closing seconds of the period after the Panthers went on a time-consuming 13-play drive.
Pikeville started three drives in Harlan territory during the second quarter, but the Harlan defense held each time. A 38-yard field goal attempt by Pafunda in the final minute of the half sailed wide left.
The Panthers received great position again to begin the third quarter after a short punt by Pope to the Harlan 36, and this time they didn't let the opportunity pass as Tim Honaker capped a six-play drive with a 16-yard TD run for a 16-0 lead with 7:18 left in the third quarter.
Huffman replaced Mayo at quarterback midway through the period and directed an impressive three-play series that ended with his 47-yard run down the right sideline for a touchdown. Pafunda's extra point pushed the lead to 23-0 with 32 seconds left in the period.
A 26-yard touchdown run by Huffman through the middle of the Harlan defense closed the scoring with 5:25 left, capping a seven-play, 78-yard drive.
"It makes you look real good as a coach when you've got kids that are quick," Jackson said. "I made some really dumb calls tonight, but the athleticism of the kids bailed me out. That happens all the time."
"The Huffman kid came in, and his running ability was a big difference in the second half," Donahue said.
Jones, who replaced Jon Lundy as the Dragons' starting quarterback, completed six of 11 passes for 63 yards, but he was sacked four times.
"They did some things that hurt us defensively, and I just give them credit," Donahue said. "They won the line of scrimmage and utilized the speed and the abilities that they had."
Harlan closed the season with five losses in its last seven games, continuing a trend that disturbs Donahue.
"There were a lot of mistakes that went unseen to a lot of people tonight," he said. "There were a lot of mental mistakes made tonight. We have some problems we have to solve offensively. We seem to die out, tucker out near the end when people figure out what we're doing. We have some adjustments we've got to make offensively."