Adams takes over late as Letcher ends Coal Bowl drought


Kim Henson

Letcher Central quarterback Carson Adams battled to break free from Harlan County linebacker Hunter Blevins in Friday’s game.

WHITESBURG — Slowly emerging as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in eastern Kentucky, Letcher Central’s Carson Adams was held in check for the better part of three quarters Friday in the annual Coal Bowl battle against Harlan County.
With the Harlan County offense unable to build on an early lead, Adams eventually caught fire and led a comeback that featured 24 unanswered points by the Cougars on the way to a 24-7 win that broke a six-year losing streak in the Coal Bowl. Adams ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 106 yards and a touchdown.
“We talked at halftime because I thought he was dancing too much. Against a good defense like Harlan County you can’t do that. You have to take what you can get,” Letcher Central coach Junior Matthews said. “He finally started running downhill and making plays. He’s a heck of a player and a heck of a competitor, and we’re lucky to have him for sure.”
Letcher improved to 4-0 with the win, battling from behind for the first time after blowout wins over Rockcastle County, Pike Central and Perry Central to start the season.
Harlan County (1-3) was held to 126 yards on the ground and 78 through the air with only seven first downs. The Bears appeared to lose on the line of scrimmage for much of the night, traditionally a strength for HCHS.
“We’re not surprised at all. I knew what kind of team they had, especially defensively. They’ve only given up five touchdowns in four games,” Harlan County coach Eddie Creech said. “I told the boys after the game there was nothing to blame on the officials or turnovers or anything else. We just got beat. They have a good defensive line that has given everyone fits. That was a good football we’ve played.”
Harlan County was also good on defense for much of the game, led by linebackers Hunter Blevins and Josh Turner, and held the Cougars scoreless in the first half.
“They are a good football team,” Matthews said. “They are a well coached team and more physical than us early. We hadn’t played a team as physical as Harlan County and you rarely do. I think that kind of pushed us back a little at the start. Our defense stuck in there and made plays and gave us an opportunity to stay in the game. I just thank God for it.”
A 1-yard touchdown run by Adams pulled the Cougars within one in the the third quarter, but the Bears held the lead with a stop on the two-point conversion.
Harlan County picked up a first down on a fourth-and-one run by Turner on the final play of the third period, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Bears stalled the drive and Letcher took control.
Adams went in from the 6 with 8:57 left to put Letcher on top for the first time.
The Bears were held on downs and Letcher scored again when Adams found Jonah Little on a fourth-and-five play for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 3:44 left.
A Kaden Barnett interception ended the Bears’ chances and set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Hayden Brashear.
The game was called by officials after a brawl ensued following the ensuing kickoff, seconds after a version of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” was played over the public address system, setting off a celebration on the Letcher Central sideline and in the stands. The song has been played before every home game at Harlan County High School. since the school opened in 2008.
Letcher dominated the first quarter in time of possession with two drives into HCHS territory for six first downs. Zack Potter ended the first threat when he picked off an Adams pass in the back of the end zone.
Facing third-and-14, Cody Clayborne connected with Tyler Flanary for what turned into a 58-yard play to the Letcher 26. Hopkins broke free around the right side for a touchdown on the next play. Josh Swanner went in for the two-point conversion, but a holding penalty wiped out the play. Jordan Steele hit a 29-yard extra point for a 7-0 lead with 3:38 left in the first quarter.
Letcher drove inside Harlan County territory again before the drive stalled and Turner blocked a punt on the Bears’ 41.
The Cougars appeared to score late In the half on a 58-yard pass from Adams to a wide open Alex Blair but Letcher’s fifth holding penalty wiped out the play. Blevins had a couple of tackles for losses to end the threat and close out the half.
“When you miss red-zone opportunities it makes it tough. We kept stalling and that comes back to me as a playcaller,” Matthews said. “They were playing hard, but it looked like we didn’t have the right plays called. It’s hard to get that hump sometimes, but we finally did. I think our kids gained some confidence tonight. That’s the best football team we’ve played by far.”
The Bears also missed several opportunities themselves, including after a pair of blocked punts, one each by Turner and Brett Roark.
Harlan County is scheduled to play host to Hazard on Friday but the game is in doubt due to coronavirus regulations.
“I told them after the game that this is life. We have to bounce back,” Creech said. “I feel we will hold strong because we have in the past. We’re built on family and the little things and the details. This bunch will rebound. We’ll have a couple of weeks to get ready. I think there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see them again.”
Letcher Central is scheduled to play host to Clay County on Friday, but that game could also be canceled due to a recent upswing in coronavirus cases in Letcher County.
Harlan County still holds the advantage in the series at 10-4, including 6-0 at home.


The Knott Central at Harlan game scheduled for Friday was canceled by Knott officials due to high coronavirus case numbers in Knott. It was the second Knott game that has been canceled this season.

“It’s very unfortunate we will be unable to play, however I totally understand the decision,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said. “The positive is it will give us a little extra time to heal up.”

Letcher Central 24, Harlan County 7
Harlan County 7 0 0 0 – 7
Letcher Central 0 0 6 18 – 24

HC — Hopkins 26 run (Steele kick)
LC — Adams 1 run (run failed)
LC — Adams 6 run (run failed)
LC — J. Little 25 pass from Adams
LC — Brashear 1 run (kick blocked)

HC      LC
First downs 7 17
Rushes-Yds 34-126 48-224
Passing 78 106
Comp-Att-Int 5-13-1 6-13-1
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 3-0
Penalties 9-108 9-100

RUSHING—Harlan County, Hopkins 21-77, Turner 8-29, Swanner 3-13, Flanary 1-0, Clayborn 1-(-3). Letcher Central, Adams 22-138, Matthews 6-26, Brashear 13-22, Blair 2-18, S. Little 1-8, J. Little 3-6, K. Barnett 1-6.
PASSING—Harlan County, Clayborn 5-13-1-78. Letcher Central, Adams 6-13-1-106.
RECEIVING—Harlan County, Swanner 3-19, Flanary 2-59. Letcher Central, Branham 3-26, Blair 1-46, J. Little 1-25, R. Burnett 1-9.



Halran County’s Josh Swanner was brought down by Letcher Central’s Koby Barnett in Friday’s Coal Bowl.