Dragons, Bears on road for district clashes


Jeff Drummond

The Harlan offense, led by quarterback Cade Middleton, prepared to run a play earlier this season. The Dragons travel to Lynn Camp on Friday.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

One a big favorite and the other a clear underdog, both the Harlan Green Dragons and Harlan County Black Bears go on the road Friday for district games with identical 2-5 records.
Harlan, losers of four straight, will be expected to get back into the win column in a game at winless Lynn Camp.
Lynn Camp brings an 0-7 record into the game and is ranked second from the bottom among all Class A teams in Kentucky, according to the RPI numbers. The Wildcats have been outscored 257-50 with three shutout losses and two losses when they were held to six points. Lynn Camp’s only close game was a 40-38 loss two weeks ago at home against Jellico, Tenn.
Tyler Smith has completed 26 of 49 passes for 203 yards with five interceptions and no touchdowns. Brody Lane has led the team in rushing with 277 yards and three touchdowns. Smith is second with 192 yards and four touchdowns.
Lane is first in tackles with 40 and is followed by Bradley Day with 29 and Nick Sanders with 28.
Harlan, with a 2-5 mark overall, has had its own troubles of late with four straight losses during the toughest part of its schedule. The Dragons opened their district slate last week with 48-0 loss at home against Williamsburg.
“We’re just concentrating on us at this point, trying to get better,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said. “We’ve been struggling and we’re still banged up, of course. We’re going back to fundamentals and trying to do the right thing. We’re hoping our kids will be more coachable.”
Harlan has lost four players to season-ending injuries and junior linebacker Dalton Irvin is still out with a concussion. Senior quarterback Cade Middleton has led the Harlan offense, along with running backs Jayden Ward and Dylan Middleton. Those three had all of the Dragons’ carries in last week’s game.
The Dragons still have a shot at second place in District 8 and a home playoff game with wins the next two weeks. Harlan would set up a showdown for second place next week at Pineville by winning Friday.
“It’s very important. This is a must-win definitely,” Perry said. “It would set up a big game next week if we can win.”
Perry isn’t concerned about his Dragons looking past the winless Wildcats.
“We can’t overlook anyone,” he said. “They are struggling, but so are we. I don’t think our kids are looking ahead. We just have to focus and try to get better.”
Harlan County will be an underdog against defending regional champ Johnson Central, a state power over the past decade. The Golden Eagles’ program was rocked earlier this season by the death of coach Jim Matney, who helped turn the program around when he arrived as coach and was a consistent winner going back to his days as coach at Sheldon Clark. Johnson Central made five straight trips to the state finals under Matney, winning two state titles.
“The good programs I’ve been around usually do a lot of little things well all the time,” Harlan County coach Amos McCreary said. “I’d say it’s tradition, doing the little things right, paying attention to detail, and there was a special man in coach Matney who came their way and got a lot of people to believe they could do something special and they did. I think from there they follow the program year after year.”
The Eagles bring a 5-2 record into Friday’s game, coasting past Clay County 42-6 and Perry Central 42-0 the past two weeks in their first two district games. A win over HCHS would set up a showdown next week at Letcher Central for the District 8 title in 4A.
All-state tackle and UK commit Grant Bingham leads an always physical Johnson Central line. Grant Rice returns at quarterback and Mason Lawson is back at tailback. Senior guard Owen Lemaster anchors the line. Senior linebacker Mason Lemaster is what Matney described in the summer as a “tackling machine,” leading a defense that also features Rice at safety, Jacob Cain at corner, Chase Price at linebacker and Jesse McCoy and Andrew Burchett on the line.
The Eagles have featured a balanced ground game this season, led by Zack McCoart with 351 yards rushing, Carter Conley with 307 and Lawson with 287. Mason Lemaster leads in tackles with 42.
“I think anyone who plays them knows they have to stop the run, but doing that has been a difficult task for a lot of different teams,” McCreary said. “ It’s not like they have a real complicated offensive system. They’re just really good at what they do. We have got to meet their physical style of play to have a chance to win.”
Senior tailback Demarco Hopkins has led the Bears’ offense with 1,103 yards rushing. Luke Carr has added 749 yards. Jonah Swanner has provided a big-play threat with five touchdowns.