Last year’s HCHS-Knox game proved to be a turning point


Ethan Mills ran for 212 yards last season in Knox Central’s 28-21 loss at Harlan County. The Bears overcame a 21-0 deficit to win.

Down 21-0 after one quarter early last season against visiting Knox Central, the Harlan County Black Bears rallied for a 28-21 victory, capped by Hunter Blevins returning a fumble 85 yards for a touchdown after Jordan Steele knocked the ball loose with the Panthers driving for the go-ahead score.
The game turned out to a turning point for both squads.
Knox Central’s losing streak reached five games after the HCHS loss as the Panthers went on to a disappointing 3-8 season that ended in the first round of the playoffs. Harlan County went on to finish 8-4, defeating Clay County in the first round of the playoffs before falling to eventual 4A state champ Johnson Central in the second round.
Both teams hope to start the 2020 season on a positive note when they meet again Friday in Barbourville, the season opener for both teams after a delayed start caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“In terms of returning players, starters and experience, Knox Central may have the most we’ll see all year,” Harlan County coach Eddie Creech said. “That gives them a distinct advantage this early in the season. We’re going to have to limit their rush yards. Mills broke loose on us several times last year.”
Knox dominated last year’s game statistically, gaining 543 yards of offense compared to 311 for the Bears. Ethan Mills, now a junior, ran for 212 yards at HCHS last season before finishing the season with 630 yards due to an injury. Senior quarterback Brady Worley completed 93 of 204 passes last season for 1,286 yards, with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. Seth Huff ran for 1,201 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Michael Bays led the Panthers on defense last year with 130 tackles, including 99 solo stops. Junior cornerback Seth Hopkins was fifth on the team last year with 55 tackles. Senior end Larken Abner was sixth with 43 tackles.
Ben Landis led the HCHS offense in last year’s game with 170, but Landis has graduated, which means seniors Demarco Hopkins and Josh Turner will take on leadership roles in the offense, along with running back/receiver Matt Brown and quarterback Cody Clayborn. Steele and Blevins are back to lead the defense, along with Turner and Gavin Ewald as the outside linebackers.
“There are two ways to look at last year’s game,” Creech noted. “We did fall behind 21-0, but I look at the three quarters that we shut them out. It’s a good rivalry. We’ve been playing since 2011, and we know them and they know us. We’re excited for the challenge.”