Three weeks after dominating Jenkins on a rain-soaked field at the Joe Gilley Athletic Complex, the Green Dragons did the same to visiting Allen Central on Friday in the first round of the Class A playoffs as they cruised to a 46-6 victory.
In a hard, steady rain that reduced most of the playing surface to a swamp, Harlan (3-8) outgained the Rebels 444-73 and amassed 24 first downs to Allen Central’s five.
The Dragons closed the season with hard-fought losses against a pair of 5A schools (Perry Central and Clay County) while the Rebels beat Knott Central and lost to Berea. Donahue said the stiff competition helped prepare his team for the postseason.
“I’m going back to the old saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ These kids have really fought through and played some good, big, strong football teams. I think it paid off for them tonight.”
Harlan didn’t attempt a pass in the game, instead dominating the line of scrimmage with a solid performance by the offensive line.
“I’ve been bragging on our offensive line all year, and they came to war again tonight,” Donahue said. “I told them these kids (from Allen Central) were big, they were going to be hard to move and the mud was going to make it that much more difficult. But those kids up front — Zach Allen, James Hill, Evan Dugger, Tanner Smith and Brad Day — they just controlled the line of scrimmage, and that was the difference in the ballgame.”
The Dragons were led offensively by junior Andrew Link, who rushed for 203 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries after being slowed in recent weeks by a shoulder injury. Senior Allen Hensley added 167 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries.
“It was good to see (Link) running downhill again,” Donahue said. “We were able to limit him and rest him some with Allen back there. I think he’s healthy, and I think he’ll be even healthier next week.
“Allen had a great game. How he could stand up out there when nobody else could, I don’t know. There were people falling everywhere, and Allen just kept running through the mud. We’re pretty good mudders, I guess.”
Hensley carried most of the load early, reaching the end zone on each of the Dragons’ first two possessions. Junior Austin Wolfe nailed both kicks as Harlan grabbed a 14-0 lead.
Allen Central picked up one first down on their first possession, but Hill sacked quarterback Josh Prater on fourth down to end the drive.
The Rebels’ second series was going the same way before Harlan was flagged for a personal foul penalty that turned a third-and-nine at the Allen Central 47 to a first down at the Harlan 38. On the next play, Prater connected with junior halfback Logan Crowder for the Rebels’ only touchdown.
The Dragons began to feel the effects of the weather on their next two series, fumbling three times and losing one. Harlan returned to form with a five-play, 36-yard drive after Dylan Chasteen recovered an Allen Central fumble. Link capped the drive with an 8-yard run that put the Dragons ahead 20-6 with 3:46 remaining in the half.
Chasteen recovered another fumble to end the Rebels’ ensuing possession, and Harlan lit up the scoreboard once more before the break. After the Dragons used their final timeout with 6.1 seconds left, junior Eric Robinson took a wide receiver reverse handoff from Link and scampered 16 yards up the sideline with less than a second remaining.
The Dragons methodically milked the clock in the second half. Hensley added his third touchdown on a 29-yard run at the 3:10 mark, and Wolfe’s kick gave Harlan a 33-6 cushion.
After again forcing the Rebels to punt — Allen Central failed to move the chains from the 1:40 mark in the first quarter until 8:09 remained in the game — Harlan embarked on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that took more than five minutes. Hensley’s 23-yard run ended the march.
The Dragons closed another five-minute drive with a 39-yard rumble up the sideline by Link. Wolfe’s kick set the final margin.
Donahue noted the boost his team received from the fans who braved the nasty weather.
“It was a good turnout. I’ve got to take my hat off to the fans who showed up,” he said. “We’ve got a great pep club at the school, and we had a group of fans who were loud and rowdy tonight. It was a nasty night to be here.”
The coach also gave credit to his seniors — Hensley, Jacob Cole and Gary Harris — for having the team mentally ready to play.
“That goes back to leadership. I’ve talked about Jacob and Allen and those guys and the leadership they’ve shown throughout the year,” he said. “And I think we’ve got a group of juniors who are starting to realize (that role) is theirs, too.”
The Dragons will travel to Pikeville on Friday for a second-round playoff game. The Panthers defeated Allen Central 43-42 at home on Sept. 26.
“We’re going to Pikeville is all I can say,” Donahue said. “We’ll go back to work Sunday watching film and Monday going back to practice. I’m tickled to death to know football season isn’t over at Harlan High School — we’ve got another week to play.”
Before the game, the Dragons paid tribute to longtime announcer and clock keeper David Davies, who is stepping down after serving in those capacities for 30 years. Athletic director Kevin Ball announced that the corner of Harlan’s press box will be named “Davies Corner.”
Allen Central 6 0 0 0 — 6
Harlan 14 12 7 13 — 46
H — Hensley 15 run (Wolfe kick)
H — Hensley 21 run (Wolfe kick)
AC — L. Crowder 38 pass from Prater (run failed)
H — Link 8 run (kick failed)
H — Robinson 16 run (run failed)
H — Hensley 29 run (Wolfe kick)
H — Hensley 23 run (kick failed)
H — Link 39 run (Wolfe kick)
First downs 5 22
Rushes-yards 27-35 57-444
Passing 38 0
Comp-Att-Int 1-9-1 0-0-0
Punts-Avg 3-40 1-21
Fumbles-Lost 6-3 5-1
Penalties-Yards 5-21 9-70
RUSHING—Allen Central, H. Crowder 8-52, L. Crowder 8-26, Parsons 5-(-2), Sumbo 1-(-4), Harlow 1-(-10), Prater 4-(-27). Harlan, Link 24-203, Hensley 15-167, Pennington 7-26, Cole 6-24, Robinson 2-12, Cornett 3-12.
PASSING—Allen Central, Prater 1-9-1-38.
RECEIVING—Allen Central, L. Crowder 1-38.