Rice riddles HCHS defense for five touchdowns to give Clay first win over Bears


Les Nicholson

Clay County quarterback Tate Rice broke free for a big gain in Monday’s game against Harlan County. RIce threw for five touchdowns in the Tigers’ 40-20 victory.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

MANCHESTER — A matchup against the struggling Harlan County pass defense led to another happy quarterback on Monday at Clay County High School.
Continuing a season-long trend, the Black Bears watched wide open receivers run through their secondary and Clay County sophomore quarterback Tate Rice feasted as he completed 16 of 24 passes for five touchdowns and 195 yards as the Tigers raced to an early 18-0 lead on the way to a 40-20 victory.
“We put a lot of time into trying to get better stopping the pass and so far we haven’t come close,” Harlan County Amos McCreary said. “I don’t have any answers for it right now. That’s been our problem. We can’t get off the field. We stop them for two downs, then we give them anything on the pass. We’re real poor defending the pass.”
The Bears fell to 2-4 overall with the loss and 0-1 in district action and are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in school history. The loss to Clay was the first for the Black Bears, who had won their previous nine meetings.
“We didn’t play up to par all night long. I think they thought it’s Clay County and we’ll waltz over there and beat them, and when you feel like that you better have a bunch of super athletes all the way around,” McCreary said. “We have to grind to get a victory. We didn’t meet their aggression. They played hard and got what they deserved. They outplayed us. They played harder.”
Rice directed the Tigers to four touchdown drives in the first half, often working his team out of trouble with his arm as he completed 13 of 16 passes in the first half, including touchdown passes of 6, 4 and 10 yards to Zach Saylor on the first three possessions for an 18-0 lead.
A Harlan County running game that had been effective all season struggled to move the ball against the Tigers as Clay won the battle up front while the HCHS backs appeared tentative. The Bears finally put together a scoring drive late in the half as Demarco Hopkins had six carries in a seven-play, 65-yard march. Hopkins went the final 3 yards with 1:28 to play in the half, then added the two-point conversion.
The porous HCHS secondary was unable to carry the momentum into halftime as Rice quickly moved the ball down the field, finding Adam Collins for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left. Rice added the two-point conversion for a 26-8 halftime lead.
Ethan Rhymer found Jonah Swanner for a 43-yard gain on the final play of the half but the speedy HCHS receiver was brought down before reaching the end zone.
Rice found Lucas Allen for a 14-yard touchdown pass on the Tigers’ first possession of the second half.
Swanner took a reverse 34 yards for a touchdown with 5:01 left in the third quarter as the Bears cut the deficit to 32-14.
The HCHS defense held for the first time on its own 18 on a fourth-down pass from Rice on the final play of the third quarter, but the Tigers added a final touchdown with 1:32 left when Trevor Spurlock went in from the 1, then went in for the two-point conversion.
Thomas Jordan had several of the Bears’ best runs of the night on the final drive capped by his 1-yard TD with 9.7 seconds to close the scoring.
Harlan County returns to action Friday at home against Letcher Central. Clay County (4-1 overall, 1-0 district) travels to Johnson Central on Friday.