Dragons, Bears close regular season with non-district clashes


Kim Henson

Harlan County’s Jonah Swanner returned a kickoff in last week’s game against Perry Central. Swanner has scored seven touchdowns this season.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Both the Harlan Green Dragons and Harlan County Black Bears will close out their regular-season schedules Friday with non-district opponents as Harlan plays host to Leslie County and Harlan County travels to Bell County.
Harlan fell to 3-6 with a 59-20 loss last week at Pineville and will go on the road again next week for a rematch against the Mountain Lions in the opening round of the Class A playoffs. The Dragons would like to build some momentum for the postseason by closing the regular season with a win against the 2-7 Eagles.
“We’d like to send the seniors out right and get some momentum going back over to Pineville for the playoffs,” said Harlan coach Eric Perry.
The Eagles and Dragons have shared two common opponents. Leslie fell 49-18 to Middlesboro while Harlan lost 44-6. The Eagles lost 62-14 at Williamsburg while Harlan fell 48-0 to the Jackets at home.
Leslie County junior quarterback Wyatt Ostrander has passed for 893 yards, completing 64 of 132 attempts with 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Wyatt Gay leads the Eagles’ ground attack with 290 yards rushing, followed by Bryce Pugh with 175 yards and Ostrander with 162 yards.
Wyatt Hensley leads the team in receptions with 26 for 366 yards. Cameron Bradford and Dalton Baker have 15 and 14 catches, respectively.
Senior defensive end Caden Gilbert leads the Leslie defense with 91 tackles, including four for losses. Bryce Pugh, a sophomore linebacker, has 69 tackles.
“We definitely have to play a lot better on defense. We really struggled,” Perry said. “The Hensley kid for them is a good receiver, but I think we match up pretty well with them. They have struggled as well, just like us, but if we tighten up on defense and continue to play better on offense, like we did the other night, I like our chances. We have to get stops to win the game.”
Senior quarterback Cade Middleton has led the Harlan offense, passing for 954 yards and running for 398. Junior tailback Jayden Ward is first in rushing with 514 yards.
Junior linebacker Robert Sanford is first in tackles with 66 and is followed by Jared Eldridge with 54 and Dylan Middleton with 52.
The Green Dragons lost four players to season-ending injuries earlier this season and will be without junior receiver Cameren Maples on Friday due to a concussion. Ward and sophomore linemen Noah Kirby are both considered “questionable” for the Leslie game due to injuries.
Harlan County coach Amos McCreary will be back in familiar territory at Bell County where he served the past four seasons as an assistant on Dudley Hilton’s staff after one season as head coach.
“He will have a physical ballclub, that’s for sure. They will run it at you,” McCreary said. “You know what he’s going to do, but trying to stop what he does is pretty difficult.”
Junior tailback Dawson Woolum leads the always physical Bell ground game with 1,027 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns through nine games. Daniel Thomas has added 559 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Senior quarterback Cameron Burnett has completed 42 of 81 passes for 881 yards.
“The quarterback is a heck of an athlete,” McCreary said. “He can throw the ball, even though that’s not their forte. That could be something they want to work on. I hope we don’t get a lot of it.”
Bell will be a favorite to extend its win streak against the Bears to four as the Bobcats bring a 7-2 record into the game. The 2-7 Bears played perhaps their best game of the year last week in a 36-28 loss to Perry Central in a game that wasn’t decided until the final play. With the Bears not qualifying for the playoffs, McCreary would like to build on the momentum from a week ago into the offseason with another strong showing Friday at Log Mountain.
“You’d love to go down there and play a good game and see what happens and try to pull one out at the end,” he said. “They have a good ballclub and they have done what they do since the seventh grade, and they do it well.”
Senior tailback Demarco Hopkins has led the Bears’ offense with 1,334 yards rushing and now has 2,660 yards for his high school career to rank third on the all-time list at HCHS behind Marcus McMillan (4,271) and Jake Middleton (3,938). Luke Carr has also had a big senior season with 914 yards rushing. Sophomore receiver Jonah Swanner has 306 yards with four touchdowns receiving, plus two touchdowns on kickoffs and one rushing.