A pair of familiar playoff foes will meet in the postseason for the third straight year as Pulaski County travels to Harlan County. Friday’s Region 4 Championship contest will make the fourth time the two teams have met in the past three seasons, with Harlan County winning each of the past two.
“I guess it is an advantage for both teams. We know a little about each other, and it has a rivalry feel,’” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “With us winning the last game and in the regional finals in 2010 — it could cause them to come in with revenge on their side.”
“I don’t think we will be surprised by anything they do, and they wont be surprised by anything that we do,”added Pulaski County coach John Hines. ” We have seen each other quite a bit in the last three years.”
Despite the familiarity of the two teams, Friday’s trip to Harlan County will be the first time several Maroons have faced the Black Bears. That’s because Pulaski County starts several freshmen on both sides of the ball. Hines said he is concerned with how those players will react in what is sure to be an imposing atmosphere.
“I’m very concerned about that,” he said. “We are extremely young. We start six freshmen, which is unheard of for anybody in 5A football. They have handled it well so far. If they can get all that stuff out of their mind and just focus on playing football we will be much better off.”
The leader of Pulaski’s youth movement is freshman Riley Hall. The signal-caller has completed 213-of-337 passes for 2,268 yards and 21 touchdowns this season.
“He is an all-state candidate. That is not something usually seen in freshman,” Larkey said. “His yardage and completion percent are good . He sits back and throws the ball real well. You can’t look at him as a freshman because he doesn’t play like one.”
Hall leads an explosive Pulaski County offense that has scored at least 28 points in all nine wins this season.
“I am really proud of the way the team has gelled with him. The offensive line has continued to get better and the receivers are running great routes. All of the things around Riley are improving, but he has done a great job of leading us,” Hines said.
Hall will be joined in the backfield by standout running back Tyler Goins. The senior leads Pulaski in both rushing and receiving, with 1,790 yards and 22 touchdowns combined.
“The best thing a quarterback can have is a good running back and a solid offensive line,” Hines said. “It makes it a lot easier if you can hand it off and get some yards, and we have been able to do that.”
While the Maroon’s have been productive on the ground, they have not been as successful at stopping the run, giving up 2,221 yards this season. That stat is likely especially concerning when facing the state’s top rushing team. Harlan County currently leads all classes with 379 yards per game on the ground, and the Bears will test Pulaski’s run defense on Friday.
“We will start off the game and see what we can do. We will see if we can win the war in the trenches,” Larkey said. “We want to keep the clock moving and move chains, and we are hoping the ground attack can do that for us.”
The Bears have featured a diverse run game in recent weeks, with Jake Middleton, Treyvon Long, Cole Wilson and Scotty Baily each serving as the workhorse at times.
“They have tremendous versatility in the different ways they run the football,” said Hines. “Obviously, they have a big strong offensive line up front. They do a great job of lead blocking. They run the football strong, and have added some dimensions from the past few weeks, when you look at Treyvon Long and Cole Wilson. That makes it tougher to defend.”
Friday’s contest will mark the third straight regional championship appearance for the Black Bears, who captured the title in 2010 and fell to Southwestern last season.
“That shows we have come a long way,” Larkey said. “The kids have worked hard and are committed to the program. I feel like that is what it takes. You can’t win championships on talent alone.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.