The Battle of 119 has taken on new meaning since Bart Elam began turning around a struggling Pineville program several years ago. That will again be the case this season, as the Mountain Lions travel to Harlan with a home playoff game likely on the line.
“We have got to win it to get a home playoff game. It’s a big game, and we have to play with some enthusiasm and excitement,” said Harlan coach J.B. Donahue.
The Green Dragons have been on of the most consistent programs in Class A football under Donahue. Elam has built Pineville into that position, but securing a home playoff game and a victory over Harlan are the next steps for the Mountain Lions.
“It would be huge. But, J.B. Donahue is one of the best coaches in the state in my opinion. I think he has done more with little than anybody around. He has won five or six games when he shouldn’t win two,” Elam said. “We are getting to the point to where even when we are down, people aren’t real excited to play us. They know we are a tough out and that our kids play hard every night. That is the important thing.”
Harlan has dominated the series as of late, winning each of the last 11 meetings, but this year’s Pineville squad is filled with playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Jamie Roan leads the offensive attack under center. Roan has completed 56 passes for 994 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Andrew Douglas is the team’s top rusher, with Conner Ford and Tanner Mike both dual threats on the ground and through the passing game. Tight end Byron David Asher is one of Roan’s top targets.
“They are all different types of players. Football is a specialized sport, so there is stuff that some of them do better than others,” said Elam. “Connor and Andrew are more of inside runners. Tanner is a speed guy out there. Byron is playing at the position he was meant to play. He is at tight end, but because of us not having depth, he has had to play at fullback or even tailback at times.”
Pineville has scored at least 40 points in each of its four wins this season. To slow that offense, Donahue said the Dragons must maintain their assignments.
“Pineville has a good football team. They do a good job of running the ball with Douglas, Mike and Ford and Roan runs the ball well. Then they throw it well enough to keep you honest,” he said. “You have to tackle well and have to be gap sound. We have to be aggressive and play assignment football. Somebody has to be responsible for each gap and make sure we get a hat on a hat.”
Meanwhile, the Green Dragons are not short on firepower on the offensive side, and Elam knows the key to limiting Harlan is to contain senior quarterback Ty Saragas.
“They have a really good quarterback. Ty is a really heady kid,” he said. “They have a couple of good running back and receivers, and they are better up front than what people give them credit for too. I thought they beat Hazard up front for a half last week. They are a good football team.”
Pineville enters the contest with momentum, having won their last three games by a combined score of 136-15.
“We are playing well. Our defense has improved every week, and we have been able to run the football a little bit better. Hopefully, that can continue,” Elam said.
The Green Dragons stayed close with defending Class A state champion Hazard for a half last week, before fading in the second half.
“Early on, we had some good spots last week. We have to work on maintaining and being consistent for 48 minutes,” Donahue said. “Balance is a key for us. We have to be able to run and throw.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.