Home playoff game on line as Dragons, Lions renew Battle of 119


Jeff Drummond

Harlan’s Darius Akal returned a kick in a game earlier this season. The Green Dragons will travel to Pineville on Friday for a district clash that will determine second place in District 8 of Class A.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Eastern Kentucky’s oldest football rivalry has become a big game once again for both the Harlan Green Dragons and Pineville Mountain Lions. Second place in District 8 of Class A and a home playoff game will be on the line when the Dragons travel to Pineville on Friday to renew the annual Battle of U.S. 119. The 6-2 Lions pushed district favorite Williamsburg to the limit a week ago before falling 21-13.
“It seems like it has been our biggest game since I’ve been here, at least the second time (as head coach),” said Harlan coach Eric Perry. “They have really improved. They have closed the gap on Williamsburg, which we were hoping to do as well but haven’t. They are going to be a challenge for us.”
Pineville is off to a good start in Jason Chappell’s first year as head coach after he moved up from defensive coordinator under Randy Frazier in the offseason.
Senior tailback Devon Morris has been the Lions’ big-play threat on offense with 873 yards and 16 touchdowns. Noah Caldwell, a senior running back, has added 372 yards on the ground. Freshman quarterback Jason Nunley has rushed for 262 yards and completed 38 of 58 passes for 638 yards with six touchdowns.
“They are really good up front, but I think the ‘X’ factor is Morris. He can make big plays at any time,” Perry said. “The biggest thing I’ve seen though is their defense. That was the biggest surprise. I knew the offense would be pretty good. They will be a handful, no doubt about that.”
Harlan, at 3-5, was down to 22 healthy players in last week’s 46-22 win at Lynn Camp. The Dragons were up by only eight points in the fourth quarter, due in part to 135 yards in penalties, but pulled away with two late touchdowns. The Dragons could have junior tailback Jayden Ward back from an ankle injury and junior linebacker Dalton Irvin from a concussion. Harlan will likely be without freshman lineman Matt Nunez, who was ejected in the Lynn Camp game.
“Our numbers were low in practice due to sickness, but it is what it is. We have to be able to control the clock and limit the big plays. I know Morris will get his plays, but we have to try to limit him as much as possible,” Perry said. “If we can do that, we can be in the game. We’ve had a pretty decent couple of days of practice. We have to limit the freaky penalties that have hindered us for a couple of years.”


Harlan County will close its home schedule Friday against Perry Central and needs a win to force a three-way tie for the last playoff berth in District 8 of 4A.
Perry Central, at 5-3, is in the middle of one of its best seasons and is led by senior quarterback Chanse McKenzie, who has passed for 895 yards and nine touchdowns while adding a team-high 385 yards on the ground.
“They are a team that can play with about anybody. They have some skilled kids with a big quarterback who is a threat out in the open,” Harlan County coach Amos McCreary said. “We have to keep him hemmed up. He’s about 230.”
The Commodores feature a balanced ground attack with Elijah Gayheart adding 352 yards rushing, followed by Kobee Eldridge with 337 yards and Cade Miller with 296 yards.
“They have a jet sweep that is a good play for them,” McCreary said. “We have to keep the quarterback from making big plays and throwing the ball around on us.”
The 2-6 Black Bears have struggled to big plays all season long, especially by quarterbacks.
“At times, we’ll play decent, then we give up a touchdown on what should have been a three- or four-yard gain. We have to do a better job of swarming to the football,” McCreary said. “We need to get more people to the football and more people making plays.”