"We've made some improvements for two weeks in a row, but we need the taste of victory bad. Our kids need to have some success," Cawood coach Frank Smith said.
Cawood (0-3) rolled through its non-district schedule last year in posting a 7-3 mark that included a 48-18 win over Evarts, but the story has been much different in 2004 after several key graduation losses.
Evarts (1-2) suffered through a difficult season last year with a 1-9 record but has shown signs of improvement this year and could take a huge step forward by knocking off the Trojans.
"They're physical. I thought they played pretty well against Harlan up front," Smith said. "They are big and strong and get after it good."
Cawood's Wing-T offense and the confusion it can cause is a concern for Evarts coach Ovie Canady.
"We have to play responsibility football and not get caught up in misdirection," he said. "Cawood made some adjustments last week and looked a lot better."
Senior Brian Greene shifted from receiver to fullback and had 56 yards on seven carries. Sophomore halfback Michael White led the Trojans with 91 yards.
"We did a lot better last week, but we've got to be physical," Smith said. "We played hard last week for the first time for 48 minutes, so that's a huge step in the right direction, but we've got to find that little nasty, mean streak somewhere down inside of us."
Evarts was limited to only one first down in the first half last week by a strong and aggressive Harlan defense. Canady said he would like to open up the Cats' offense more against the Trojans, but the rainy conditions have made it difficult to work on the passing game. Senior quarterback Shawn Hoskins was limited to 13 yards through the air last week.
The Wildcats received some good news earlier in the week about senior running back Frank Middleton, who suffered a back injury in the season-opener against Knox Central. Middleton was originally told he would be out of action for six months, but a specialist in Knoxville said he may be able to return in a couple of weeks because the injury wasn't as severe as originally diagnosed.
Maintaining the momentum gained by two impressive victories to open the season is the primary objective for the Cumberland Redskins in their 7:30 p.m. Coal Bowl matchup.
"We just don't want to lose any focus," Reynolds said. "Our guys have seen on the films that they can still get better and that's what they're trying to work for."
Cumberland (2-0) overpowered Fleming-Neon 56-0 in the season's opening week, then pulled away in the second half for a 42-20 win over Cawood before taking last week off.
Letcher (0-3) doesn't appear to present much of a threat for the Skins. The Eagles are in their first season of varsity competition and have been outscored 177-20 in losses to Clay County, Evarts and Berea.
The Eagles are not devoid of talent as evidenced by their performance against Evarts. Junior quarterback Steven Caudill passed for 72 yards against the Wildcats and 143 last week in a 58-12 loss to Berea. Senior wingback Stephen Breeding had 90 yards rushing against Berea and junior tailback Montana Gibson had over 100 yards receiving. Junior fullback/nose guard John Walters scored Letcher's lone touchdown against Evarts and was a leader on defense.
"The key for our kids is experience, experience and experience," Letcher coach Charles Hall said. "We want to try and get on the board early and try to contain Cumberland's speed the best we can."
Stopping the Skins' big-play ability won't be easy if the opening two games are any indication. Senior quarterback Drew Allison has passed for 352 yards in the first two games with senior Marty Doyle and junior Robert Constant his favorite receivers thus far, along with senior tight end Kevin McIlquham.
While the Skins' early success makes them a huge favorite Friday, Reynolds has warned them about the dangers of overlooking anyone.
"Everybody picked us to finish at the bottom of the heap, so we can't get the big head now," he said.
Going for a three-game sweep of Harlan County opponents, the new and improved Knox Central Panthers face their toughest challenge of the rare trifecta Friday in a 7:30 p.m. game against visiting Harlan.
"We've got our hands full. Harlan has one of the better linemen (Jake Anderson) in the state and (Teddy) Thompson is a good running back," first-year Knox Central coach Wayne Mills said. "I told coach Donahue the other day that they could have a special year if they stay healthy."
Knox Central (2-1) ended a nine-game losing streak against Cawood last week with a 27-12 victory.
"Cawood was a big win for us because they had dominated the series," Mills said. "Our kids don't have a whole lot of confidence, and I don't know if that is something they can achieve in one year."
The Panthers, who were 0-10 last year and 1-9 in 2002, opened the season with a 24-6 win at Evarts before falling to Whitley County in the second week.
"They are a much-improved team. Coach Mills and his staff have done an excellent job there," Harlan coach J.B. Donahue said. "They've kind of made a new commitment to football and it's produced big dividends for them on the field."
Knox Central has featured a strong running game thus far led by Matt Ramsey and Travis Cutter. Ramsey topped the 100-yard mark against Evarts and Cutter went over 100 against Cawood.
"We had some turnovers the other night we don't need," Donahue said. "Defensively, we have to stop their running game. They have two or three kids who really stand out.
"They are also a physical team, and they will play a six-man front he brought with him from Bell County. We'll have to be able to block people up front and move the football."
The Panthers had 85 yards in penalties against Evarts, a problem that Mills says can't be repeated against Harlan.
"We've got to cut back on our penalties and avoid turnovers," he said. "If we can do that, it will give us a chance to stay in the game anyway."
Harlan (2-0) has also had success on the ground as Thompson has topped the 100-yard mark in both of the Dragons' games. Senior fullback Marvin Smith and senior halfback Andrew Grieshop have also played well.