Dragons open district slate against five-time defending champs


Jeff Drummond

Harlan coach Eric Perry talked with his team during a game in Lexington against Sayre earlier this season. Harlan will open its district schedule Friday at home against Williamsburg.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

The Williamsburg Yellow Jackets begin their quest for a sixth straight District 8 title on the same field where they last lost to a district opponent (in 2015) as they travel to Harlan on Friday for the district opener for both teams.
Williamsburg entered the current season as a heavy favorite to win again as they swept through all three district opponents last year despite being all but wiped out by graduation the previous May. The Jackets brought back most of their key players from last season, led by junior quarterback Sydney Bowen, along with fullback Marty Gilley and receivers Jayden Rainwater and Bronson Bates. Martin Shannon, a transfer from Madison Central, has given the Jackets another weapon.
“They have a couple of capable receivers and a good quarterback. They’ve given up some points, but they’ve played a good schedule, just like we have. They are really good,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said. “For us to be able to have a chance, we have to control the clock. It’s no secret,” Perry said. “If we can do that, we can be in the ballgame.”
The Jackets bring a 3-2 record into Friday’s game with wins over Oneida, Tenn. (50-21), Leslie County (62-14) and Somerset (21-14) and losses to Middlesboro (60-28) and Sayre (35-17).
The 2-3 Dragons have also suffered losses to Middlesboro (44-6) and (Sayre 42-0), along with Berea (29-8). Harlan has wins over Jenkins (30-0) and East Ridge (46-40).
Harlan senior quarterback Cade Middleton has passed for 578 yards and rushed for 282. Junior tailback Jayden Ward has led the team in rushing with 416 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior linebacker Robert Sanford leads the Harlan defense with 47 tackles, including four for losses. Dylan Middleton and Jared Eldridge have 37 and 32 tackles, respectively.
Senior linebacker Chris Howard had 114 tackles a year ago and leads a defense that also features Bates and Rainwater, along with linemen Bryce Creekmore-McCullah, Nolan Pittman, Conner Lay and Jordan Hurst.
“They are probably not as good defensively as they have been,” Perry said. “They still have good team speed, but I think they lost one of their linebackers early in the year. They are still very capable.”
The Dragons’ chances of making a district run have been dealt a blow recently with a rash of injuries. Senior nose guard Jon Lewis, who was injured on the first play of the Middlesboro game, has been sidelined for the season after it was determined he suffered a torn ACL. Backup lineman Hanna Pace is also out with a torn ACL. Sophomore running back/quarterback Donovan Montanaro is likely out for the year with a torn bicep. Lineman Malachi Rodriguez may also be out for the year due to recent hernia surgery. Linebacker Dalton Irvin has been sidelined by a concussion. Sanford and Darius Akal are considered “questionable” for Friday’s game due to sickness.
Perry hopes the opening of district play will provide a boost after three straight losses.
“It’s definitely a breath of fresh air to start the district schedule,” he said. “We’re pretty beat up right now with three or four season-ending injuries, but I’m hoping this will revive us a little and we can get our second wind.”