Dragons to face their toughest test against fourth-ranked Middlesboro


Chris Jones

Harlan senior linebacker Dylan Middleton and teammates brought down an East Ridge ball carrier in last week’s game.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Eric Perry coached against some very good Middlesboro football teams in his early years at Harlan as the defensive coordinator on J.B. Donahue’s staffs. It’s been almost 20 years since he has seen one as good as this year’s 4-0 squad that’s ranked fourth in the state among Class 2A teams.
Harlan (2-1) will play host to the Jackets on Friday in what could be its toughest test in Perry’s three-year tenure as head coach.
“I think this is their best team since they went to the state semifinals in 2002,” Perry said. “They are very athletic and have a lot of speed. Up front, they are big and have good feet. They are a real contender for a state championship.”
The Jackets are dangerous both on the ground and through the air as sophomore quarterback Cayden Grigsby has completed 19 of 29 passes for 336 yards and six touchdowns. Senior run-in back Caleb Bogonko has rushed for 454 yards and five touchdowns, while Grigsby has added 220 yards rushing.
“Their quarterback isn’t big, but he’s very fast. They want to run the football, but they will throw it some too. For us to be able to stay in the game, we have to slow down their running game a little bit,” Perry said.
Middlesboro also features a strong defensive front led by senior end Jay West and senior tackle Jalil Patterson-Graves. Defensive back Tyler Kelly leads the team in tackles with 22 and is among the nine seniors who rank among the top 12 on the team in tackles. Middlesboro’s roster includes 13 seniors out of 31 players.
“This is their year,” Perry said. “We’re going into it with nothing to lose.”
Harlan is coming off a 46-40 win a week ago against East Ridge in a game the Dragons trailed by 22 in the first quarter.
“We came out flat. Why, I have no clue. It was 22-0 in the first quarter. We turned it over and gave up some big plays in the passing game. We looked lost,” Perry said. “We won the last three quarters 46-18, but you can’t expect to fall behind like that this week and have any chance. We have to control the clock and we can’t turn it over. We have to play near perfect. Our guys know the challenge we are up against. I feel like they are confident.”
Senior quarterback Cade Middleton had his best game a week ago with five touchdowns on the ground, in addition to 152 yards rushing. Junior running back Jayden Ward ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
“Athletically, I think we match up pretty good, but up front is where the game is,” Perry said. “We have to have a stalemate up front or it’s going to be a long night.”