Commodores win shootout against Black Bears

By John Henson, Managing Editor




For the first time in over a decade of trips across the county line of their neighbor to the south, the Perry Central Commodores left Harlan County alive.
Senior quarterback Chanse McKenzie helped the 6-3 Commodores fight off a valiant upset bid by the Bears as he passed for 127 yards and ran for 58 yards and two touchdowns in Perry’s 36-28 victory in a game that wasn’t decided until the final play.
It was the best effort of the season by the 2-7 Bears, who rolled up 332 yards on the ground as the HCHS offensive line opened and fullback Josh Sergent opened holes for Demarco Hopkins, who ran for 171 yards, and Luke Carr, who ran for 118. The loss ended Harlan County’s streak of playoff appearances at 13.
“I think we improved enough to play a decent game. The effort was there,” Harlan County coach Amos McCreary said. “When you are losing games, it’s very easy to throw in the towel, and that’s what I respect out of these boys. They have played hard the whole time. We just make some crazy mistakes and give up big plays. If we could have made them work all night and not give up a couple of big plays, I think this game is different.”
McCreary was especially pleased by the performance of the Bears’ offensive front as HCHS collected 19 first downs and moved the ball consistently all night.
“They all ran the ball hard and the line played hard,” McCreary said. “You always hate to lose, but I feel great about the effort tonight.”
Harlan County opened the game with an eight-play drive that ended when quarterback Ethan Rhymer fumbled on the Perry Central 33 after three first downs.
The Commodores responded with a 12-play, 66-yard march that included two first-down runs by Elijah Gayheart and ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by the 240-pound Mckenzie. The extra point kick was off the mark and Perry Central led 6-0 with 2:46 left in the opening quarter.
HCHS put together an even longer drive on its second possession as Luke Carr, Josh Sergent and Demarco Hopkins each picked up first downs in a 13-play, 72-yard march. Rhymer went the final yard for a TD with 8:17 left in the half. Carr’s two-point conversion run put the Bears on top 8-6.
The points came fast and furious after that, beginning with McKenzie finding Kameron Maggard open for a 38-yard touchdown pass as he raced past an HCHS defender down the sideline. McKenzie added the two-point conversion.
Hopkins needed only one play to answer as he split two Perry defenders for an electrifying 75-yard touchdown scamper with 7:05 to play in the second quarter. Carr’s two-point conversion gave the Bears a 16-14 lead.
The Bears’ lead lasted only 14 seconds as Josh Perkins raced 75 yards down the sideline for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff. McKenzie again bulled his way into the end zone for the two-point conversion and a 22-16 lead with 6:51 left in the half.
After an exchange of punts, Harlan County’s Jonah Swanner came up with the first of two big plays as he took the ball back to the Perry 38. Hopkins and Carr had runs to put the ball inside the 10. Rhymer missed an open Hopkins on third down but found a diving Swanner on fourth down for a 7-yard TD that tied the game at 22 with seven seconds remaining in the half.
McKenzie went 8 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, then Ian Montgomery hit the extra point for a 29-22 lead with 8:58 to play in the third quarter.
Harlan County answered again with an 11-play, 61-yard drive that featured a 25-yard run by Carr, who bounced off a defender before being brought down on the 1. Carr scored two plays later on a 2-yard run with 3:08 left in the period. Carr appeared to get in for the go-ahead two-point conversion but officials ruled he was short and the Commodores led by one.
Perry extended its lead to eight when Kobee Eldridge went in from the 2 on the first play of the fourth quarter. Montgomery hit the extra point.
Another long return by Swanner, this one to the Perry 46, put the HCHS offense back in business. Carr picked up two first downs before Rhymer was stopped inches short on fourth down at the Perry 15 with just over seven minutes left.
The Commodores ran over six minutes off the clock, with the help of a costly illegal procedure penalty by the Bears on a fourth-and-one play. The Bears were called for two more off-side penalties to help Perry run the clock to the final minute before punting to the HCHS 5.
Rhymer found Swanner 31-yard gain to near midfield on the next to last play, but Rhymer’s final pass was incomplete as time expired.
Harlan County closes its season Friday at Bell County. Perry Central will play host to Williamsburg on Friday before traveling to Letcher Central the following week in the first round of the 4A playoffs.