Defending state champs bring 19-game winning streak to HC


Demarco Hopkins, pictured in action earlier this season, scored Harlan County’s lone touchdown in a playoff loss Friday at Johnson Central.

Winners of 19 straight games since falling the 4A state finals in 2018, the Johnson Central Golden Eagles will present a massive challenge for a Harlan County squad looking to turn around its season when they meet Friday at Coal Miners Memorial Stadium.
The defending state champs have rolled past Bell County (36-0), Simon Kenton (47-17), Clay County (49-6) and Perry Central (75-24) to open the season. The Eagles feature three Division I recruits (senior receiver Zach Russell, junior tackle Grant Bingham and senior running back Dylan Preston).
“We all know what type of program Johnson Central has,” Harlan County coach Eddie Creech said. “They have things rolling over there. I’d say they have a top five team in all of Kentucky.”
Harlan County (1-3) struggled to move the ball two weeks ago in a loss at Letcher Central as the Bears picked up only 116 yards on the ground, choosing an east-west approach in running on several carries.
There’s no danger of Johnson Central taking a tentative approach in running the football as the Eagles have been a power team since Jim Matney took over as coach. Dillon Preston, the district’s preseason player of the year, leads with 624 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. Mason Lawson has 360 yards on the ground, followed by Bladen Sexton with 245 yards and Chase Price with 238.
Grant Rice has attempted only 11 passes in four games but has completed seven for 225 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bears missed last week’s home game against Hazard last week due to the county’s “red” status in coronavirus numbers and were limited in what they could do in practice.
“This season is unlike any season I can remember,” Creech said. “Losing eight starters on offense, we could have really benefitted from three weeks of spring practice, the 2 scrimmages, and the 3 missed games. However, our young men have stood tall and kept plugging. This past week was no exception. We were limited to conditioning and weights.”
Harlan County is led on defense by senior linebackers Hunter Blevins (49 tackles), Gavin Ewald (33) and Josh Turner (32). Demarco Hopkins leads the HCHS offense with 378 yards rushing.