The Harlan County Black Bears left little doubt Friday that they are still the team to beat in District 8. The Whitley County Colonels entered the district showdown as a trendy pick to unseat Harlan County, but the Bears dominated both sides of the football on their way to a 40-13 victory over the visiting Colonels.
The Harlan County offensive line paved the way for 316 yards rushing on 54 carries. Jake Middleton led the Bears with 127 yards rushing on 20 carries. Treyvon Long had 71 yards on nine carries, and Cole Wilson added 55 yards on six carries.
“There were a lot of plays where our offense line just drove them 10 yards in the surge. It was amazing to watch them,”said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “Everybody came out and did their part. There were several people that ran the football, and several people that scored.”
The filthy animal defensive limited Whitley to just 50 yards on the ground. Junior linebacker Carson Whitehead turned in a standout performance in the middle of the defense.
“The defense played as a team. They read their reads real well. I think they did a good job of stopping Boston Bryant up the middle, (Austin) Ysidro off tackle, and they got up there and made some great plays on (Zack) Mills on the sweep play,” Larkey said. “Our defense was really clicking.”
Harlan County set the tone on the opening drive. The Bears ran the ball three straight times capped by a 6-yard touchdown run by Middleton. Wilson set up the score with 36-yards rushing on the first two plays. Wilson’s kick gave the Bears a 7-0 lead with 11:16 left in the first.
After forcing the Colonels into a three-and-out, Long turned in one of his many big plays on the ensuing punt. Long fielded the kick at the Bears’ 30 and raced 70-yards for the score. The kick failed and Harlan County led 13-0 with 9:03 remaining in the opening period.
“Treyvon is a great athlete. I knew he could do it. I was thinking in the back of my mind that we would turn the game over to him if that’s what we had to do,” Larkey said. “I felt like Cole Wilson would have a great game tonight and he did too.”
The Bears’ defense turned in another stop on Whitley’s second drive. Senior Kainer Caudill forced Bryant to fumble and fellow senior Coty Miracle recovered the ball at Harlan County’s 43.
After three straight runs from Treyvon Long, Middleton carried the ball on the final three plays of the drive, capped by a 13-yard score with 5:07 left in the first. The two-point run was stopped and the score remained 19-0.
“We made it easy on them in the first quarter. They are a good team, and I knew they were going to be able to run the ball like that. But, we didn’t do anything to help ourself in the first quarter,” said Whitley County coach Jim Black. “We made some major mistakes there and they capitalized on them. That’s what good teams do.”
The Colonels got on the scoreboard on their third possession. Backed up into a 4th-and-16, Ysidro connected with Mills on a screen that covered 26 yards for a touchdown. Alex Conlin added the extra point to close the gap to 19-7 just before the end of the first.
The Bears quickly regained any momentum lost by the score, as they put together a methodical nine-play drive that covered 63 yards. Middleton carried the ball six times on the drive, including a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 9:53 left in the second quarter. Wilson added the extra point to make it 26-7.
The ensuing Whitley County drive stalled inside Harlan County’s 10-yard line, but the Colonels regained possession on a fumble. A pass interference call on third down moved the ball to the 5, and Bryant scored on a 3-yard run two plays later. The two-point conversion failed and the Bears led 26-13.
Harlan County added to the lead with a score just before the half. Long turned in another big play, this time on a 37-yard run to moved the ball to Whitley County’s 1. Middleton scored two plays later. Wilson ran in the two-point conversion to make it 34-13 with just .40 seconds remaining in the half.
After forcing the Colonels to punt, Harlan County put the game out of reach with another score on its first drive of the second half.
The Bears put together an impressive 15-play drive that covered 81 yards and chewed up nearly eight minutes off the clock. Middleton served as the workhorse on the drive, carrying the ball five times for 42-yards. Quarterback Scotty Bailey closed the drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak to make it 40-13.
“I was real proud of Scotty stepping in there at quarterback. A lot of times we got into different sets, where he was not the quarterback, but he accepts that and goes right back to his other position,” Larkey said.
Bailey was under center for the first time since replacing injured senior Austin Maggard.
“We dedicated this game to Austin and gave him the game ball. When you have somebody that has played the role he has for this county and this football team, I feel like it is great to recognize him and let him know we appreciate him,” Larkey said.
Harlan County substituted heavily on the offensive side of the ball from that point, and the teams traded stops throughout the fourth quarter.
“Our kids have never been in this championship atmosphere,” said Black. “We have played in big games, but not a championship type game. That’s what it was tonight, and we weren’t ready to play.”
Harlan County (6-2) return to action next week at Perry Central. Whitley County (5-3) will host Letcher Central.