Dragons, Spartans preparing for rematch in first round of Class A playoffs


Chris Jones

Harlan running back Darius Akal followed his blockers during the Dragons’ win earlier this season over visiting Lexington Sayre. The two teams meet again Friday in the first round of the Class A playoffs.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Almost two months after playing one of the most exciting regular season games in the history of Joe Gilley Field, the Sayre Spartans and Harlan Green Dragons will square off at the same place in the first round of the Class A playoffs.
The Green Dragons won a 50-42 shootout in the Sept. 23 game, outscoring the visitors from Lexington 20-7 in the fourth quarter. Donovan Montanaro scored on a 9-yard run to put the Dragons ahead by two, then linebacker R.W. Sanford returned an interception for a touchdown on the final play to seal the victory.
Harlan coach Eric Perry anticipates another close matchup Friday as the Dragons play their first home playoff game since 2015.
“We have to continue doing what we do. We know they have a good team and have played a tough schedule. We have a good team and played a pretty good schedule. We’re fairly even teams, so I don’t see why it won’t be a battle again,” Perry said. “Last time they had a lot of success offensively. We have to contain the (Brock) Coffman kid. We also need to continue running the ball and be able to take some shots down the field to Will (Austin) and Nate (Montanaro). They are real good offensively, so we will try to limit the big plays with Coffman and (Charlie) Slabaugh.”
Sophomore quarterback Luke Pennington, the son of former NFL quarterback and Sayre coach Chad Pennington, has completed 148 of 229 passes this season for 1,690 yards, with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions. Coffman has 68 catches for 817 yards and Slabaugh has 40 catches for 421 yards. Slabaugh has rushed for a team-high 384 yards and also leads in tackles with 74.
While he expects a competitive game, Perry wasn’t ready to predict another high-scoring shootout.
“I can’t call that one,” he said. “If we’re able to run the ball, we could eat the clock. Outside of that game, we’ve played pretty good defense. I thought we played pretty good defense last week.”
Harlan closed its season at 7-3 with a 21-18 loss last week at Leslie County after leading 18-7 at the half.
“Our kids know we were likely the better team the other night, but sometimes the better team doesn’t win,” Perry said. “I think we’re pretty upbeat. We had a great practice Monday — one of the best we’ve had in several weeks. They know it’s going to be a tough task, but we have some pretty tough kids. I think they are ready for the challenge.”
Senior tailback Jayden Ward topped the century mark for the season with last week’s 165-yard performance and now has 1,650 yards rushing. Darius Akal has rushed for 613 yards, while Austin leads in receptions with 13 for 286 yards.
Dylan Middleton and Sanford lead the team in tackles with 71 and 65, respectively.