Bears give McCreary a win in his debut as Hopkins, Swanner, Carr power offensive explosion


Chris Jones

Harlan County senior tailback Demarco Hopkins took the handoff from quarterback Ethan Rhymer on a sweep in Friday’s game against South Laurel. Hopkins ran for 291 yards and five touchdowns in the Bears’ 59-26 victory.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Some good offenses feature a big-play attack.
Some good offenses prefer ball control.
At least for one night, the Harlan County Black Bears had both, giving coach Amos McCreary a win in his first game at HCHS with a 59-26 rout of visiting South Laurel in the First Priority Bowl. It was the season opener for both teams.
“I think this was big for these guys to start with a win,” said McCreary. “It feels real good. We needed it.”
Jonah Swanner, a sophomore receiver, handled the big-play angle with a 75-yard kickoff return to open the game, then added a touchdown reception later in addition to several other nice runs on special teams.
Senior tailback Demarco Hopkins helped the Bears play keep away, running behind a dominant offensive line in a five-touchdown, 291-yard performance. Luke Carr added 132 yards on 11 carries as part of the Bears’ 498-yard night on the ground.
“Those running backs ran hard and broke a lot of tackles. Demarco had an unreal night. He should rest well tonight,” McCreary said. “Any time you have an athlete like Swanner, you have a chance for some big plays, and I think he is only going to get better. Luke also ran real hard and had a big game. We had several backs who played real well.”
“We’ve demanded a lot from this offensive line (Connor Blevins, Will Cassim, Ethan Shepherd, Jacob Shoemaker and Issac Downs) and they responded. They are all pretty good ball players up there.”
South Laurel had some bright moments, even in defeat, as freshman Landry Collett, the son of the former Leslie County receiver from the 1990s with the same name, threw for three touchdowns in a gritty 165-yard passing performance despite pressure from the HCHS defense. Ashton Garland had two touchdown catches, including one from Jimmy Mitchell. Hunter Bundy and Ayden Smith added one touchdown reception each.
The Bears’ defense dominated the line of scrimmage, though, limiting South Laurel to only five yards rushing on 12 carries.
“Coach (Denny) Farmer came in there and we went to a man-to-man at halftime. They were getting us crossed up a little,” McCreary said. “We were able to bring an extra linebacker and get more pressure in the second half, and I think that slowed them down a little. He had to get rid of it a lot quicker.”
Swanner gave the Bears a lead after only 12 seconds as he found an opening up the middle and raced to the end zone for a score the first time he touched a football as a high school player.
Collett picked up one first down through the air on the Cards’ first possession, then backed up Harlan County with a punt that rolled to the 2 with 8:33 left in the first quarter. The Bears ran out the quarter, plus a couple of minutes in the second in a 17-play march that featured a steady diet of Hopkins and Carr. The Bears picked up seven first downs before Hopkins went in from the 1 for a 13-0 lead.
The Bears needed only three plays to cover 40 yards in their next drive as Josh Sergent rumbled 16 yards one play before Hopkins went 17 for the score and a 19-0 lead. The Bears were penalized three times before throwing an incomplete pass on the two-point attempt. It was part of a 15-penalty night for Harlan County that covered 141 yards.
Collett led South to a pair of scoring drives in the second quarter sandwiched around a 63-yard touchdown run by Hopkins as the Bears led 27-14 at halftime.
Carr went 16 yards for a touchdown on the Bears’ first drive of the second half and Hopkins went 45 for a score on the second possession. Thomas Jordan added the two-point conversion for a 41-14 lead with 7:29 left in the third quarter.
Collett, who struggled to complete passes against a better HCHS pass rush in the second half, found Smith for a 20-yard score with 6:10 to play in the quarter.
Hopkins scored his fifth touchdown with a 5-yard run with 3:53 to play in the period. A penalty wiped out a 69-yard TD run by Hopkins late in the quarter, but a 39-yard run by Carr kept the drive alive and set up a 25-yard TD pass from Ethan Rhymer to Swanner for a 53-20 lead.
Hopkins raced 43 yards on his final run of the night, setting up a 13-yard touchdown run by Jordan with 7:05 left to start a running clock.
Mitchell threw to Garland for a 6-yard touchdown after a couple of runs by Bradley Elza helped put the Cardinals on the positive side in rushing yardage for the first time.
Harlan County will return to action Friday at Hazard. South Laurel will play host to Estill County.

Harlan County junior fullback Josh Sergent headed toward a South Laurel defender in Friday’s game. Sergent was named defensive player of the game in the 59-26 win. (Chris Jones)