The Harlan Green Dragons and their fans had plenty of opportunities to play after a 34-12 loss Friday to visiting McCreary Central.
Much could have been different, if the Dragons:
n Hadn’t decided to pass on the McCreary Central 5 after moving the ball 57 yards on the ground with ease in the previous six plays, then had to watch as Aaron Watts returned an interception 102 yards for a back-breaking touchdown;
n Hadn’t kicked to McCreary star running back Zack Roark, who returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and set up another score with a long punt return;
n Could punch the ball in the end zone more often on a night when they rolled up 273 yards on the ground with 20 first downs.
Harlan (1-4) suffered through several of the same problems they experienced in a 7-0 win over Pineville the previous Friday, moving the ball well between the 20s before bogging down in the red zone. Andrew Link topped the 200-yard mark for the second straight week with a 255-yard performance.
“I thought we fought hard the second half. I thought the offensive linemen and Andrew had another good night,” Harlan coach J.B. Donahue said. “We’re back to the same old song and dance. We have to cash it in at the end zone.”
McCreary Central (4-2) moved only two wins away from breaking a school record for victories by using a familiar formula for success, giving the ball to Watts and Roark as often as possible.
Roark rushed for 157 yards and scored three touchdowns, while Watts passed for 136 yards, rushed for 48 and scored twice.
“They’ve done that all year,” McCreary Central coach Clinton Gay said. “Aaron kind of plays to the competition. The better the competition, the better he plays. Zach had a real good game tonight.”
“I think they have not only two, but three outstanding football players. I think the receiver (Dustin Stephens) is a great football player,” Donahue said. “Their linemen are developing better each game, and I think they are an up-and-coming football team. Watts is an exceptional athlete, and much stronger than I imagined. Roark is an oustanding player with good speed who runs aggressive.”
Roark set the tone for the night on the opening drive as he took a pitch from Watts, broke several tackles and went 57 yards for a touchdown. Roark’s two-point conversion pushed the Raiders’ lead to 8-0 with 9:10 left in the first quarter.
After stopping Harlan on downs, McCreary Central needed only two plays to score after a long punt return by Roark to the Dragons’ 27. Watts connected with Dustin Stephens for 26 yards, then went the final yard himself after recovering a fumble. Roark was stopped on the two-point attempt to make it 14-0 with 6:40 to play in the opening period.
Harlan appeared ready to get back in the game as Link and the Dragons’ offensive line took over and moved the ball to the McCreary 5. Kenny Pennington tried to find tight end Ben Cornett in the end zone on first down, but Watts picked off the pass and raced 102 yards for a touchdown. Watts added the two-point conversion as the lead grew to 22-0 with 3:24 to play in the first quarter.
“Myself and (assistant coach) Jackie Cornett will say that every coach on the staff tried to throw the ball to the tight end on the goal line. They were bringing everybody up, and that’s your first reaction. That’s what you do when they bring everybody up, and we’ve had success doing it during the year,” Donahue said. “We thought it was the right time to do it. Looking back, it wasn’t.
“That was our fault. It’s not the kids’ fault. I told the kids we took seven away from them and gave them (eight), and that’s on the coaches. That play was big.”
“Those are the kind of plays (Watts) makes all the time,” said Gay, “and really, the play call was out of character for J.B. You drive the thing 90 yards, and then he throws it. He wouldn’t do that again in a thousand years. All of us make mistakes. I made them out there tonight.”
Link went back to work on the opening drive of the second quarter, picking up first downs with runs of 11, 19 and 10 yards before going the final 13 for a touchdown with 8:53 left in the second quarter.
Roark recaptured the moment for McCreary seconds later as his 90-yard kickoff return made the score 28-8.
An intercepton by Aaron Carr gave the Dragons another scoring opportunity just before the half. Link picked up two first downs before the drive stalled.
Harlan pulled within 16 by driving 99 yards in 11 plays in the third quarter after the Dragons’ defense held McCreary out of the end zone on a fourth-and-goal from the 2. Link went 5 yards for a touchdown with 1:26 left in the third quarter, but he was stopped short on the two-point conversion try.
“I think we got a little complacent when we got those easy scores,” Gay said. “They didn’t play as well as I wanted them to.”
McCreary Central put the game away with a 10-play, 72-yard march capped by Roark’s 14-yard run with 4:14 to play. Kody Johnson knocked down Watts’ pass on the two-point conversion try.
Harlan returns to action Friday at home against Lynn Camp. McCreary Central plays host to Rockcastle County on Friday.
McCreary Cent. 22 6 0 6 — 34
Harlan 0 6 6 0 — 12
MC — Roark 57 run (Roark run)
MC — Watts 1 run (run failed)
MC — Watts 102 interception return (Watts run)
H — Link 13 run (kick blocked)
MC — Roark 90 kickoff return (run failed)
H — Link 5 run (run failed)
MC — Roark 14 run (pass failed)
First downs 19 20
Rushes-yards 33-224 46-273
Passing 136 16
Comp-Att-Int 9-16-1 3-7-1
Punts-Avg 0-0 5-21
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 4-2
Penalties-Yards 7-45 4-335
RUSHING—McCreary Central, Roark 12-157, Watts 16-48, Taylor 3-22, Snead 1-5, Huston 1-(-8). Harlan, Link 31-255, Hensley 3-15, Cole 3-5, Pennington 8-3, Allen 1(-5).
PASSING—McCreary Central, Watts 9-16-1-136. Harlan, Pennington 3-7-1-16.
RECEIVING—McCreary Central, Roark 3-20, Stephens 2-43, Goins 2-40, Perry 2-33. Harlan, Hensley 3-16.