Perry expects Middlesboro to provide tough test in opener


Harlan junior running back Jayden Ward battled for yardage in action last season.

Like most coaches around the state following a preseason marred by stops and starts due to the coronavirus pandemic, Harlan coach Eric Perry isn’t sure what to expect when his Green Dragons open the season Friday against visiting Middlesboro.
“I’m sure coach (Larry) French will have them to play,” Perry said. “They lost Jabari (Kyle), but they only had four seniors on that team. I think people forget that. This very well could be the best team we see all year. We’re going on their schemes from last year and what coach French did at Boyle (County) and Southwestern, but we’re going into it blind, pretty much like they are.”
Kyle, a basketball standout playing football for the first time in high school as a senior last year, turned around the Jackets as a receiver/running back/quarterback who accounted for 28 of 39 rushing touchdowns, 29 of 58 receptions and 1,585 yards rushing in leading Middlesboro to an 8-4 record. The Jackets had won only five games in the previous four seasons combined.
Eric Helton, a senior, returns at quarterback for Middlesboro after completing 57 of 113 passes last year for 756 yards and nine touchdowns. The Jackets have several options in the backfield and at receiver, including three seniors who combined for over 1,000 yards on the ground in supporting roles to Kyle last season. Caleb Bogonko rushed for 373 yards, followed by Riley Gent with 358 yards and Helton with 279.
Ethan Barton, a senior, was second on the team in receiving yardage last year with 156 yards on six catches. Atavius Flanary, a junior, had seven catches for 77 yards. Jay West and Craig Brock added three and two receptions, respectively.
The Jackets bring back plenty of experience on the offensive front, led by tackles Connor Griffin, a senior, and Zach Tong, a junior. Chase Allen, a senior, is back at center with senior Jacob Heck and junior Yousiff Nabat at the guards.
The Dragons’ offense will again revolve around senior running back/quarterback Ethan Clem, who led the team a year ago with 740 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Jayden Ward, a junior, will also play a key role in the Harlan offense. Senior quarterback Connor Scearse passed for 250 yards in five games in 2019.
The strength of the Dragons’ “43” defense will be the linebacking corps with Clem in the middle and Triston Cochran and Scearse on the outside.
Coming off a 1-10 season last fall, the Dragons could use a confidence boost with a strong performance in their opener.
“I expect Middlesboro to be pretty darn good, and I think we can be pretty good,” Perry said. “We’re expecting a good hard-fought game, and we’re going into it to win it. It’s a good measuring stick for us.”