They did both in their season opener Friday, defeating visiting Harlan 36-14.
The win, the Patriots’ first against a Harlan County opponent since they beat the Dragons in 1994, came largely courtesy of Braxton Ratliff. The junior quarterback rushed 19 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns, repeatedly fooling Harlan defenders with fake handoffs to his three running backs.
“We put this offense in about midway through last year. It’s something our kids have been successful with,” Knott Central coach Joe Beder said. “Braxton does a real good job running it. He pretty much makes the calls at the line. The kids have really bought into our system.”
Harlan coach J.B. Donahue was frustrated by the Dragons’ lack of discipline on defense.
“We had some kids bite on (Ratliff’s fake handoffs),” he said. “We watched it on film and we saw it in person last week. We just didn’t play assignment football. We had kids — our veteran kids — who didn’t play their responsibility tonight.
“I’ve always stood up for years and tried to take the heat off the kids and put the blame on me. I can’t on this one — I’m sorry. We just didn’t play assignment football.”
Knott Central marched 71 yards in four plays on the opening drive, highlighted by Ratliff’s 44-yard sprint to the Harlan 33. Two plays later, Ratliff scored on a 28-yard run to put the Patriots ahead 6-0.
The Dragons answered with an efficient drive of their own as Kenny Pennington rolled out on a play action and connected with senior receiver Allen Hensley for a 58-yard touchdown. Austin Wolfe’s kick gave Harlan a 7-6 lead with 7:57 left in the first quarter.
The Patriots went into ball-control mode, chewing up more than seven minutes with a 63-yard, 14-play drive that included a fourth-down conversion run by Ratliff. Anthony Newhouse scored on a 1-yard plunge, and Ratliff found Kenny Craft for the conversion.
After forcing the Dragons to punt, Knott Central again went on a sustained drive. Brady Risner’s 5-yard touchdown run capped a 12-play, 80-yard march that took more than five minutes. Ratliff again connected with Craft for the conversion.
“I was frustrated. I didn’t think we got the ball a lot, especially in the first half,” Donahue said. “They ate the clock up a lot in the first half.”
The Patriots failed to score on their final possession of the first half, even with an extra play. Ratliff was stopped for a loss on what should have been fourth down, but the Patriots couldn’t convert, giving the Dragons a small shot of momentum heading into the break.
Harlan opened the second half with its best drive of the night, led by Andrew Link. The junior running back carried five times for 52 yards on the drive, including a 22-yard run to start the series and a 17-yarder to set up Pennington’s 1-yard scoring burst. Wolfe’s kick cut the Dragons’ deficit to 22-14 with 8:26 left in the third quarter.
Knott Central answered again, using their unorthodox point-after formation to set up the touchdown.
On third-and-goal from the 5, the Patriots lined up with four players in the middle of the field and the other seven bunched together to the left of Ratliff. The quarterback scrambled, reversing course several times, before finally shaking Hensley to get into the end zone.
“‘The Lonesome Polecat’ — we’re not real good at kicking, so we had to figure out a way to get two points,” Beder said. “We don’t call it — we just line up and basically go out there and play barnyard. (Ratliff) is good at scrambling and finding people, so we’ve had some fun with it.”
After forcing a punt, the Patriots closed the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown run by Jason Carmody with 1:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Risner added 50 yards on nine carries for Knott Central (1-0).
The Dragons were led by Andrew Link with 116 yards on 16 carries. Donavhen Middleton added 37 yards on 10 carries in the second half. Pennington completed five of 13 passes for 87 yards.
“We were having to talk to our kids tonight about things like getting excited,” Donahue said. “When Andrew did break a 10- or 15-yard run, we’d just get up and walk back to the huddle. That’s exciting football — we just ran through the middle of their defense for 15 yards, and nobody got excited about it.
“I could go on and on about the mental and maturity mistakes we made tonight. It’s (a lack of) maturity. I’m not saying we’re young — we’re not young, we’ve got 15 juniors. We can’t use that excuse. They’ve got to step up and play.”
Harlan (1-0) returns to action next week at Lee, Va.
“We’ll see a whole lot better football team than this next week,” Donahue said. “That’s not to take anything away from Knott County — coach Beder’s done a heck of a job.”
The Patriots will travel to Perry Central next week.
“We’re pretty excited,” Beder said. “Last year, we went through a lot of adversity, and our kids stuck together. This is a reward for them.”
Harlan 7 0 7 0 — 14
Knott Central 14 8 14 0 — 36
KC—Ratliff 28 run (run failed)
H—Hensley 58 pass from Pennington (Wolfe kick)
KC—Newhouse 1 run (Craft pass from Ratliff)
KC—Risner 5 run (Risner pass fro Ratliff)
H—Pennington 1 run (Wolfe kick)
KC—Ratliff 5 run (Risner pass from Ratliff)
KC—Carmody 2 run (run failed)
First downs 12 14
Rushes-yards 39-164 51-302
Passing 87 13
Comp-Att-Int 5-13-0 1-4-0
Punts-Avg 3-15 2-25
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-0
Penalties-Yards 7-70 4-25
RUSHING—Harlan, Link 16-116, Middleton 10-37, Pennington 6-24, Cole 3-5, Chasteen 2-2, Hensley 1-(-1), Robinson 1-(-19). Knott Central, Ratliff 19-167, Risner 9-50, Carmody 9-39, Newhouse 11-39, Craft 3-7.
PASSING—Harlan, Pennington 5-13-0-87. Knott Central, Ratliff 1-4-0-13.
RECEIVING—Harlan, Hensley 3-85, Link 1-5, Cornett 1-(-3). Knott Central, Richardson 1-4.