Dragons face tough test against top-ranked Pikeville in second round of playoffs


Chris Jones

Harlan senior fullback Dylan Middleton broke free for a big gain in the Green Dragons’ 42-7 win last week over Sayre. Middleton and the Dragons travel to Pikeville on Friday.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

After a 42-7 rout of visiting Lexington Sayre on Friday in the first round of the Class A playoffs, it certainly appears the Harlan Green Dragons are playing their best football when it matters most.
There’s little doubt the Dragons will need to be at their best to compete in their second-round game Friday at Pikeville as they take on the top-ranked Panthers. Pikeville brings an eight-game winning streak into the game and owns the top RPI rating of Class A teams in Kentucky.
“They are really good, but so are we,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said. “We respect (Pikeville) coach (Chris) McNamee and that program, however I don’t believe our kids will fear them. We will show up in Pikeville on Friday and do what we do. We aren’t gonna change a bunch of stuff. We know they are the defending state champs and favorite to repeat, but changing what you do is not the answer. I like my squad and would go to battle with them any day. We will play our game, try to utilize our team speed and guys up front just like we always do.”
The Panthers have topped the 40-point mark in each of the past seven games, including a 63-0 blowout of Lynn Camp in a first-round playoff game last week. Blake Birchfield leads the Pikeville offense with 1,347 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns. Wade Hensley has 21 catches for 423 yards and six touchdowns. Tayvian Boykins has 27 catches for 396 yards and three touchdowns while adding 374 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
“Pikeville is big and strong up front and utilize it to their advantage on offense,” Perry said. “Defensively, they are very sound and swarm to the ball. They are a veteran team with 15 of their 22 starting positions being seniors.”
Harlan senior tailback Jayden Ward has topped the 200-yard mark twice in the past three weeks, including 216 yards against Sayre, and has 1,376 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season. Senior receiver Will Austin has 14 catches for 288 yards and five touchdowns, while adding six interceptions. Dylan Middleton and R.W. Sanford, both seniors, have led the Harlan defense with 74 and 69 tackles, respectively.
The 8-3 Green Dragons opened workouts this week without Perry due to illness, but he returned to practice Tuesday.
“We have had two good days of practice. They have been in good hands with coach (Chris) Thompson, coach (Jerry) Perry and coach (Joe Bill) Baker,” Perry said.
With their win over Sayre last week, the Dragons broke a seven-game losing streak in the playoffs, stretching back to 2015 when Harlan lost to Hazard 35-14 in the second round.
Harlan is 1-6 against Pikeville in the playoffs with a 21-14 victory in 2009 at Pikeville — the only road playoff victory in Harlan history.