The first game of today's Citizen Tribune Kickoff Classic will be a matchup of very similar teams as Harlan County travels to Morristown to take on Tennessee power Morristown-Hamblen West.
Like Harlan County, the Trojans finished the season at 11-2 and advanced to the Class 5A state quarterfinals last season. The teams will also feature similar styles with both relying on a physical ground game.
"Harlan County has a good tradition and is building a great football program. It should be a tough, hard-nosed football game," said Morristown West coach Lamar Brown. "Both teams want to control the clock and do some things in their running game. It may the quickest high school game in history. Both teams have a lot of things in common. We both believe in a physical style of football, and both hang our hats on running the ball. It is going to be a real good football game to watch."
Morristown West finished as the 33rd ranked team in Tennessee in 2011 according to Maxpreps.com, and knocked off two-time 4A champion Greeneville during the regular season. The Trojans return five starters on offense, and feature standout junior tailback Malachi Horton in the backfield.
"They are a pretty big and physical team. They have a lot of good athletes and a couple of good running backs. They play a lot of people one way. I think we will have our hands full," said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. "Malachi is a real shifty runner. If he finds the slightest hole he can slither through. We have to have a lot of our defensive guys on him every time he carries the ball. He is a tough guy to bring down."
Horton and the offense will be led by a big line that includes potential Disivion I recruit Andy Bacon.
"Andy is the leader of our offensive line. He is a physical football player. He meets every criteria that I have for an offensive lineman. He is a big guy that moves his feet well. This will be his third straight year starting, and he has gotten better every year," Larkey said.
The Trojans are based out of a 3-4 on defense, but will appear more like a 5-2 at times. The unit returns six starters from a season ago, including all-state linebacker Lucas Fishman.
"Lucas is a big part of our defense. He is the leader there, and he leads by doing the right things. He gets his teammates and keeps them there," Brown said. "We are young on defense, so it is important to have a great leader like Lucas."
If Harlan County is to knock off Morristown West on the road, Larkey said the Bears must control the tempo of the game and limit big plays.
"We have to be able to control the football and the line of scrimmage and not give up the big play on defense," he said. "You always like to start off with a win, but you like to see what you have too. We will find out Saturday what we are made of, because they are a good football team."