Big plays power Knox Central to victory over Bears


Several familiar issues proved costly once again as Harlan County saw its losing streak reach three games with a 42-26 loss Friday to visiting Knox Central.
The Bears struggled to make tackles in the open field as Knox Central quarterback Marc Warren completed 16 of 26 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns as short passes turned into big gains several times.
“That killed us. We can’t get off the field due to the passing game,” Harlan County coach Amos McCreary said. “If we don’t get better there, there will be no victories. We have to come out here next week and work and do better at tackling. We have to stop the arm tackling. Teams are turning what should be short gains into 50-yard touchdowns. Some of it might be lack of speed, but some of it is just not concentrating and doing what we’re supposed to.”
Harlan County also struggled with penalties, drawing 14 for 107 yards. The mistakes proved costly as HCHS came up empty on two trips inside the Knox Central 20, including the game’s opening possession. A procedure penalty against the Bears on a fourth-down play on Knox’s opening drive also resulted in points for the Panthers.
“You get down there and don’t score it really hurts your momentum. That really hurt us early in the game when we drove down there and didn’t score,” McCreary said.
The Bears had some big plays of their own, especially by a pair of sophomores. Thomas Jordan returned a kickoff 70 yards after the Bears fell behind 20-0. Then, Jonah Swanner caught a 38-yard TD pass from Ethan Rhymer to cut the deficit to 21-14 at halftime. Swanner and Gavon Spurlock each had interceptions, including one Spurlock returned 50 yards for a touchdown.
“We have some guys capable of making.big plays,” McCreary said. “We just have to get everyone on the same page. They throw a little pass out there and it goes 50 yards.”
The Bears set the tone for the night on the opening possession with a 12-play march that ended on the Central 20. The Panthers responded with a nine-play drive that ended with Seth Tompkins’ 2-yard run. Steve Partin added the two-point conversion.
Harlan County moved into Knox territory again on its second possession before a fumble ended the threat. Warren teamed with Abe Brock for a 55-yard gain on a screen play, setting up a 2-yard TD run by Cayden Collins with 5:37 left in the first half. Ivy Partin hit the extra point for a 15-0 lead.
Harlan County started its third drive inside Knox territory but couldn’t move the ball before Ethan Rhymer was sacked on fourth down. Knox needed only one play to score again as Warren found Gavin Chadwell. The HC defensive back went for an interception but missed and the big Central tight end rumbled 55 yards for.a score and a 21-0 lead.
Jordan found an opening on the ensuing kickoff and went 70 yards for a touchdown with 3:41 left in the half.
The Bears got the ball back on a fumble, then Rhymer teamed with Swanner on a 38-yard touchdown strike. Demarco Hopkins cut the deficit to 21-14 with the two-point conversion.
Swanner went high for an interception to give the ball back to the Bears, but Harlan County returned the favor two plays later with a fumble on the Bears’ 9. Central drove to the HC 1 before time expired in the half.
Warren threw two more touchdown passes in the third quarter, one to Abe Brock and a second to Chadwell, as the KC lead grew to 35-14.
Gavon Spurlock stepped in front of a Warren pass with 9:27 left in the third quarter and took it back 50 yards for a touchdown that cut the deficit to 15.
A long kickoff return set up the Panthers for another score as Tompkins went in from the 18 with 7:57 to play. Payne hit the extra point.
HCHS added a late touchdown as Luke Carr had several long runs to set up Rhymer for a 1-yard TD run with 4:18 left.
Harlan County (1-3) returns to action Friday at Pike Central. Knox Central (3-1) plays host to Paintsville on Friday.