Sayre no match for Harlan in rematch as Dragons advance in playoffs


John Crisologo

Senior tailback Jayden Ward ran for 216 yards to help lead Harlan to a 42-7 rout of visiting Sayre in the first round of the Class A playoffs on Friday.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

After a 50-42 thriller in the regular season when Harlan didn’t finish off a victory over visiting Sayre until the game’s final play, another down-to-the-wire finish seemed likely in a playoff rematch Friday at Harlan.
Instead, the Green Dragons dominated on both sides of the ball on the way to a 42-7 rout that gave Harlan its first playoff victory since 2015 and a trip to Pikeville for the second round next week.
“Our guys played very well tonight,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said. “They had something to prove. They heard some had called our last game a fluke.”
Harlan dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides, running for 404 yards on a whopping 61 carries while limiting Sayre to only 39 yards on the ground. Senior tailback Jayden Ward led the Dragons with 216 yards on 33 carries, while senior fullback Dylan Middleton added 98 yards on 12 carries. Junior quarterback Donovan Montanaro added three touchdowns rushing.
“Our offensive line just dominated,” Perry said. “I’m so happy for Dylan and Jayden, who were with us from the start and went through the tough times. They both ran really hard tonight, as did all of our guys.”
The Dragons may have been even more impressive on defense as Sayre (5-6) was limited to only six first downs through the first three quarters. Harlan also recorded three interceptions, one by Ryley Mefford and two by Will Austin.
“The defense was lights out,” Perry said. “Coach (Jerry) Perry had a great gameplan and our guys executed it to perfection. This shows what you can do if you are totally focused in practice like we were this week.”
Harlan drove 65 yards in 10 plays on its opening drive, featuring a steady dose of Ward. Montanaro ran 12 yards to set up Ward’s 5-yard touchdown run with 4:57 left in the first quarter. Montanaro was stopped on the two-point conversion attempt but Harlan led 6-0 with 4:57 left in the opening quarter.
The Dragons appeared in position for another score with a 10-play drive that ended on the Sayre 1 when Charlie Slabaugh broke through for a stop on fourth down.
Noah Kirby quickly turned the momentum back to the Dragons when he dropped Slabaugh in the end zone for a safety and an 8-0 lead with 6:40 left in the second quarter.
A long kickoff return by Austin set the Dragons up for another score. Ward and Middleton each picked up first downs before Darius Akal went in from the 8 with 3:23 to play in the half, making the score 14-0 after Montanaro was stopped on the two-point conversion.
The first of two Austin interceptions in the quarter put the Harlan offense back on the field after only one play. Montanaro capped a four-play drive with a 1-yard TD run at the 1:29 mark of the second quarter, pushing the lead to 20-0 by halffimte.
Sayre drove to the Harlan 25 before another Austin interception in the closing seconds of the half.
A 10-play, 60-yard Harlan drive to open the second half was capped by Akal’s 11-yard touchdown run. Middleton’s conversion pushed the lead to 28-0.
Sayre snapped the shutout when Luke Pennington connected with Grant Barnsten for a 3-yard touchdown pass. Brady Atkins hit the extra point.
Two Montanaro touchdowns, a 7-yard run with 22 seconds left in the third quarter and a 17-yard run with 3:41 left in the game, closed the scoring. The final touchdown capped a 13-play drive that ate up much of the clock in the final period.
Harlan (8-3) will face a tough task In the second round against top-ranked and defending champ Pikeville. The only road playoff win in Harlan history was at Pikeville in 2009.

Senior defensive back Will Austin had two interceptions in Harlan’s 42-7 win Friday over Sayre in the first round of the Class A playoffs. (Chris Jones)