For a half.
The Dragons' defense tightened up in the second half, holding the visiting Wildcats to three first downs and 121 yards of offense and forcing four turnovers as Harlan pulled away for a 35-14 victory.
The defensive effort is more impressive considering that 64 of those yards came on one pass late in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.
Senior Randy Blakley was responsible for three of the second-half turnovers, intercepting two passes from Pendleton quarterback Michael McNay and recovering a fumble.
Harlan coach J.B. Donahue said the Dragons didn't change their defensive approach in the second half they simply benefited from an improved offensive attack.
"We got on the football a little more, we played a little better offensively. We drove the ball down the field and put points on the board in the second half," he said.
"We just made simple mistakes in the first half. We made blocking mistakes on something we've worked on all week long. It was just an execution deal. In the second half, we hit large, gaping holes and ran the football the way we were supposed to run the football."
Pendleton coach Tim Carver was anything but talkative after the game.
"We just couldn't make any plays on defense and we couldn't execute offensively," he said.
Junior Teddy Thompson sparked the Harlan offense with 217 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. His big day included scoring runs of 19, 35 and 57 yards.
After last week's 7-6 win at Knox Central, Donahue lamented his team's inability to score from the red zone. Early on, it appeared that the problem had followed them into Saturday's game.
The Dragons marched down the field on their game-opening possession, aided by a 45-yard run from Thompson that gave them a first down at the Pendleton 12. Three plays later, Thompson's fourth-down run came up just short of the marker, giving the Wildcats control at their own 3.
After forcing a punt, Harlan again turned the ball over on downs, this time at the Pendleton 21. Senior running back Jason Harville quickly made the Dragons regret it, sprinting 79 yards for the touchdown. McNay's extra point gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead with 2:34 remaining in the first quarter.
Harville led the Wildcats with 133 yards on 12 carries.
"They were similar to what I saw on film. They have a couple of real good backs, and I thought they were very aggressive. They played hard. They're an up-and-coming football program," Donahue said.
The teams exchanged punts again before the Dragons reached the end zone. McNay's punt left the Dragons with a short field, and they made the most of it, driving 40 yards in six plays. Sophomore quarterback Jon Lundy connected with sophomore tight end Patrick Ball for a 7-yard score, and Andrew Grieshop's kick knotted the game at 7-7 with 8:30 left in the half.
Harlan took its first lead later in the quarter on a drive that began at its own 40. Grieshop ran 33 yards to the Pendleton 27 on the first play of the series. Four plays later, Thompson scored on a 19-yard jaunt. Grieshop's kick gave the Dragons a 14-7 advantage with 1:20 to play in the half.
The Wildcats relied on their passing game to tie the score before halftime. McNay, who had misfired on his first four passes of the game, completed four of six on the drive, capping it with a 21-yard toss to Harville for the score. McNay's kick tied the score at 14 with 17 seconds remaining.
That drive was essentially the last successful one the Wildcats would have. Harlan put the clamps on Pendleton County in the second half, as the Wildcats went three-and-out on their first two possessions and turned the ball over on their next two.
The Dragons, meanwhile, took the lead for good on their first series of the third quarter. Thompson followed his 17-yard run with a nifty 35-yard scoring jaunt that included a broken tackle at the 20. Grieshop's kick put the Dragons up 21-14.
The Wildcats' first lost fumble actually consisted of two miscues. Junior Derek Amburgey lost the ball, but Jared Leabo recovered for the Wildcats. Leabo then coughed the ball up himself and Blakley fell on it at the Pendleton 28.
Harlan was unable to capitalize on the first two takeaways, coming away empty both times.
After the Dragons turned the ball over on downs with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter, the Wildcats threatened to score again, driving to the Harlan 18. But McNay's 35-yard field goal attempt missed.
The Dragons countered with another touchdown. After three runs by Grieshop, Thompson rumbled 57 yards for his third touchdown of the game and a 27-14 Harlan lead.
"I think they took our spread game from us. They took our one-back system away, but we were able to get in our wishbone formation and run on them. But the big key for us is we were able to score points this week and put the ball in the end zone," Donahue said.
Pendleton County turned the ball over on its ensuing possession as McNay fumbled and senior lineman Andrew Howard recovered for the Dragons at the Pendleton 46. Four plays later, Lundy found sophomore tight end Thomas Farrow in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown. Casey Belcher added the two-point conversion run to set up the final margin.
The Wildcats kept Harlan's Jake Anderson from being much of a factor on defense, holding the senior nose guard to just two tackles, both in the second half. Grieshop led the Dragons with seven tackles, including a sack. Matt Smith also contributed a sack, and Jesse Curry, Thompson and Derek Stephenson each added four tackles.
Harlan (4-0) returns to action Friday at Cumberland in an important district clash, while Pendleton County (3-2) will travel to Henry County.