Jackets open defense of district title with victory at Harlan

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Keeping the Williamsburg offense off the field as much as possible was clearly the plan for the Harlan Green Dragons going into Friday’s District 8 opener against the five-time defending champions and quarterback Sydney Bowen. The plan worked well early as Harlan ran 14 plays on offense the first quarter compared to two for the visiting Jackets, but when the Williamsburg defense forced four punts in the second quarter and allowed only nine offensive plays, the game quickly got away.
Bowen, last year’s District 8 player of the year, got off to a good start for a repeat as he passed for 255 yards and ran for 90 in the Jackets’ 48-0 victory.
“We were doing what we wanted to do. We didn’t capitalize on the two opportunities we had, I thought,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said after the Dragons fell to 2-5. “You have to capitalize on opportunities against good teams and we didn’t do that.”
Harlan picked up two first downs on the game’s opening drive, highlighted by a 43-yard run by Jayden Ward to the Williamsburg 17. Ward fumbled three plays later to end the threat as Cade Hatcher recovered on the 11.
The Jackets needed only two plays to score as Jayden Rainwater ran 27 yards on the first play before Bowen found Martin Shannon on a screen pass that turned into a 62-yard touchdown. Micah Steely hit the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 5:17 to play in the opening period.
Dylan Middleton and Ward each picked up first downs as the Dragons drove to near midfield before the drive stalled late in the first quarter.
“If we don’t fumble the ball there, then score again the second time we had it then it could have been 21-14 at the half instead of 28-0,” Perry said. “I didn’t see a lot of bickering and finger-pointing though, so that was positive. I have to remind myself we’re starting three freshmen and a sophomore on the offensive line and two freshmen and two sophomores on the defensive line. Our lineman are really young, but they are coming along.”
The Jackets’ offensive front dominated the game, especially after the first quarter, as Bowen had time to look for receivers and pick out holes when he ran the ball, often waiting for blockers down the field.
“He’s really good and so are they as a team. We played three linemen at times and four at times and it’s easy to sit back and say bring more pressure. We did at times and he made us pay,” Perry said.
Williamsburg marched 81 yards in four plays on its second possession as Bowen found Shannon for 42 yards, then went the final 18 yards himself for a touchdown. Steely’s extra point pushed the lead to 14-0 with 10:19 to play in the second quarter.
Bowen found Bryson Potter for a 34-yard gain on the Jackets’ third series to get out of a second-and-25 hole. Rainwater went 28 yards for a touchdown with 3:56 remaining in the half for a 21-0 lead after Steely’s third extra point.
Williamsburg scored again with a seven-play, 75-yard drive after a Harlan three-and-out. Bowen had runs of 27 and 19 yards before finding Potter for a 19-yard TD with 45 seconds left in the half. Steely’s kick pushed the lead to 28-0 at halftime.
The Jackets drove 67 yards in a 13-play drive to open the second half. Marty Gilley and Bowen each had long runs in the drive before Rainwater took a Bowen pass 15 yards for a score with 5:41 left in the third quarter. Steely’s kick made the score 35-0.
Harlan picked up a first down on a pass from Cade Middleton to Dylan Middleton, but the Williamsburg defense held on fourth down four plays later. Rainwater then capped a four-play drive with a 46-yard TD run with 13 seconds left in the period, starting a running clock after Steely’s sixth extra point.
The Williamsburg reserves scored late after the Dragons were stopped on fourth down at their own 28. Freshman quarterback Mathew Davis found Tanner Manus open along the sideline for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 3:50 remaining. The Jackets took a knee on the conversion to close the scoring.
Williamsburg recovered the ensuing kickoff but Davis took another knee on the final play as time expired.
Both teams return to district action on Friday as Harlan travels to Lynn Camp and Williamsburg plays host to Pineville in a game that will likely determine the District 8 champion.