Preston scores four TDs as Johnson Central downs Bears

Rarely is a 31-point loss considered a moral victory, but that may have been the case Friday in Harlan County’s 33-2 loss at home to defending 4A state champ Johnson Central.
Dillon Preston scored four touchdowns as Johnson Central won its 20th straight, but it was the closest game of the season for the 5-0 Golden Eagles. Harlan County missed on a couple of scoring opportunities deep in Johnson Central territory and turned the ball over four times but still managed to avoid a running clock. Harlan County kept the ball nearly 39 minutes of the game.

“That was the game plan. Grind it out and move the chains,” said Harlan County coach Eddie Creech. “Johnson Central isn’t accustomed to going that long without the ball. We were a few finishes away from making this a tight ball game.”

Johnson Central’s Mason Lawson intercepted a Cody Clayborn pass with less than eight minutes to play in the opening quarter.

Two plays later, Preston caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from Grant Rice with 7:06 to play. Austin Ratliff added the extra point.

Matt Crum recovered an onside kick as the Eagles took over at the HC 38-yard line. With 4:13 remaining in the first quarter, Lawson scored from the 18. Ratliff’s kick made it 14-0.

Lawson recovered a fumble early in the second quarter as Johnson Central took over on its 43. One play, put the Golden Eagles in the end zone as Preston went 57 yards. The kick failed.

Harlan County looked to get on the board on the next possession. The Bears moved the ball from their own 27 to Johnson Central 14 in the drive that took 11 minutes off the clock, but HC turned the ball over on downs as the first half closed.

With just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Lawson intercepted a Clayborn pass. One play later, Preston ran 61 yards for a touchdown for a 26-0 lead.
Harlan County drove 54 yards in 12 plays before being stopped on the Johnson Central 4. A holding penalty in the end zone resulted in a safety for the Black Bears to make it 26-2.

With over three minutes to play, Harlan County turned the ball over on downs and Preston scored his fourth touchdown of the night on a 64-yard run. Ratliff’s kick was good.

Preston, a senior running back, led Johnson Central with 193 yards on seven carries. Lawson, a sophomore running back, gained 49 yards on three rushes. Johnson Central gained 243 yards on just 12 carries.

Rice, a junior quarterback, completed both of his passes for 66 yards.

Senior running back Demarco Hopkins led the Black Bears with 56 yards on 25 carries. Josh Turner, also a senior running back, followed with 46 yards on 18 rushes. HC rushed for 104 yards on 51 carries.

Clayborn completed three of nine passes for 13 yards. Turner completed his only pass for nine yards.

Harlan County (1-4 overall, 1-2 district) travels to Perry Central on Friday for a key-district showdown. Perry Central (2-4 overall and 1-2 in the district) posted a 32-24 win at Clay County on Friday. The Tigers were eliminated from the playoffs with a 0-3 district record.

Johnson Central (5-0, 3-0) plays host to Letcher Central (4-0, 2-0) next week for the district championship.


Johnson Central 33, Harlan County 2

Johnson Central 14 6 6 7 – 33

Harlan County 0 0 0 2 – 2

JC—Preston 49 pass from Rice (Ratliff kick)

JC—Lawson 18 run (Ratliff kick)

JC—Preston 57 run (kick failed)

JC—Preston 61 run (run failed)

HC—Holding penalty in the end zone for safety

JC—Preston 64 run (Ratliff kick)



First Downs 7 12

Rushes-Yds 12-243 51-104

Passing 66 22

Comp-Att-Int. 2-2-0 4-10-2

Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-2

Penalties 6-73 4-35


RUSHING—Johnson Central, Preston 7-193, Lawson 3-49, Rice 2-1. Harlan County, Hopkins 25-56, Turner 18-46, Flanary 3-9, Ewald 1-4, Clayborn 2-(-11).

PASSING—Johnson Central, Rice 2-2-0-66. Harlan County, Clayborn 3-9-2-13, Turner 1-1-0-9.

RECEIVING—Johnson Central, Preston 1-49, Russell 1-17. Harlan County, Flanary 3-13, Ewald 1-9.