Two of the state’s top rushing teams will be on display Friday, as Harlan County hosts Madison Southern in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. The Black Bears are currently the top rushing team in any class, with 4,083 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Madison Southern is also in the top 10, with over 3,300 yards rushing.
The Eagles have been powered by running back Damien Harris, who is currently the state’s leading scorer and fourth in rushing yards per game. However, Harris sat out of last week’s victory over Perry Central, and could be forced to watch Friday’s contest from the sidelines.
“It doesn’t look good to be honest,” said Madison Southern coach Jon Clark of Harris’ availability.
Harris has been called arguably the best sophomore in the nation by several recruiting services, and currently holds scholarship offers from nine Division I schools, including Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee and Ohio St.
“If he’s in there, we have to hit him early and get some gang-tackling. We can’t let him loose through the line of scrimmage. We have to contain him, because he is very good,” Harlan County coach Tom Larkey said.
Jake Middleton’s stats have been nearly as impressive for the Black Bears. The senior is eighth in the state in yards per game, and 10th in overall scoring. The Bears also have several other weapons in the backfield with Cole Wilson, Treyvon Long, Carson Whitehead, Tucker Lewis, Zach Chitwood and Scotty Bailey all contributing.
‘They are big, strong and physical. They have been that way with everybody all season. We have to be sound with our techniques. We have got to tackle. It all comes down to tackling,” Clark said.
The visiting Eagles will also have other options, if Harris is unable to go. Quarterback Adam Simpson has completed 57-of-97 passes for 754 yards and five touchdowns this season, while Coty Russell and Wes Proctor have combined for over 900 yards on the ground.
“They have a good offense. Even without him, they have some good running backs, and their quarterback does an excellent job throwing the ball. He is pretty accurate and they don’t drop many passes,” Larkey said.
With both teams focusing on the run, Larkey said the Harlan County offensive line will need to improve on its performance from a week ago.
“I thought the Lincoln County game was probably the worst game the line had all season. Of course, we had a couple of guys out with injuries,” he said. “We need to get more intensity on the line of scrimmage and get meaner to move the ball on this team.”
The blocking up front will be aided by the return of fullback Carson Whitehead and linemen J.W. Cooper and Justin Hensley.
The Black Bears enter Friday’s contest as a favorite, but Larkey said there is no room for error.
“Our kids have to play one of their best games,” he said. “We are picked to win, but picks don’t always work out.”