Dragons, Lions renew ‘Battle of 119’ with home playoff game going to winner


Chris Jones

Harlan running back Jayden Ward followed a block from WIll Austin in last week’s win over Lynn Camp. The Green Dragons return to action Friday at home against Pineville.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

As the oldest football rivalry in eastern Kentucky, Harlan and Pineville have often played competitive games. It’s been a while, though, since both have played as well as they have to this point in 2022 with 13 wins between them in 16 games.
Pineville (7-1) was undefeated before before being blown out last week by Williamsburg. Harlan (6-2) is off to perhaps its best start this century, suffering hard-fought losses to Middlesboro and Williamsburg as the only blemishes on its record.
The winner of Friday’s game at Harlan will take second place in District 7 of Class A and will host a playoff game. The loser will finish third and likely travel to Hazard for the first round.
“It’s a big rivalry game, one of those where you can throw the records out the window,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said. “It’s a huge game for both of us with a home playoff game on the line. You feel any time you can play at home in the playoffs there is a little advantage to it because you don’t have to travel. You don’t have to leave straight after school. We have a lot to play for and so do they.”
Landon King has led a balanced Pineville attack with 758 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. Landon Robbins has added 620 yards rushing, with seven touchdowns. Sawyer Thompson has completed 41 of 80 passes for 939 yards, with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions.
“They do have some balance on offense. They have several who can run it, and they can throw with the Thompson kid,” Perry said. “Williamsburg hit them early and it kind of snowballed from there. We expect to see their A game this week, and I’m sure they expect the same. It should be a really good battle.”
Pineville features a senior-dominated roster this season with a 14-man class, including several up front who helped lead the Lions past Harlan each of the past two years in the first round of the Class A playoffs.
“They are big and strong up front and play a physical brand of football,” Perry said. “They run several formations but like to run the same plays out of the, It will be a tall task for us. We haven’t beat them in a few years. I’m sure they have some confidence coming into it.”
Jayden Ward has led the Harlan offense with 758 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. Darius Akal has added 542 yards rushing. Donovan Montanaro has completed 16 of 38 passes for 303 yards, with seniors Will Austin accounting for 10 catches and 199 yards.
Senior linebacker R.W. Sanford and senior end Dylan Middleton are tied for the team lead in tackles with 59. Sanford missed last week’s game with an ankle injury and is questionable this week, as is senior end Ryley Mefford.
“Getting lined up defensively will be important because they do have so many formations,” Perry said. “I think we have to tackle better, and have to protect the football. We want to run the ball and take a few shots down the field when we have a chance. We have to take care of the ball and limit the big play and cut down on penalties.”