Dragons celebrate Senior Night by rallying for OT win over Leslie

By John Henson, Managing Editor


A Harlan offense held to eight points through the first three quarters and three minutes came alive just in time to celebrate Senior Night in style Friday night. The Dragons exploded for 30 points over the final eight minutes and overtime to edge visiting Leslie County 38-36.
Junior tailback Jayden Ward, who has been slowed by an ankle injury and didn’t start Friday’s game, ran for 98 yards and three touchdowns. Senior quarterback Cade Middleton overcame a slow start by passing for 93 yards in the fourth-quarter comeback.

“We started playing a lot better offensively the second half,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said. “Cade had a lot of bad balls the first half. They were really sailing on him. He buckled down the second half, and I thought our running game picked up. Sometimes we forget about our running game, and we can’t forget about our running game. I thought Jayden came through with some big plays and our young offensive line played well. More than anything, we started clicking offensively.”
The Dragons’ tackling problems were evident early as quarterback Wyatt Ostrander broke through a Harlan wall of defenders at the line of scrimmage and then raced 45 yards for a touchdown. Jesse Osborne hit the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 10:19 left in the first quarter.

The Eagles put together a long drive on their second possession, running six minutes off the clock in a 14-play march that stalled on the Harlan 24.

Ward picked up a first down as the Dragons drove near midfield before Ward was stopped on fourth down. 
Leslie needed only five plays to go 43 yards as Bryce Pugh ran for 25 yards to set up Wyatt Gay’s 3-yard touchdown run with 8:44 left in the second quarter. Osborne’s extra point pushed the lead to 14-0.

The Dragons drove 54 yards in eight plays to open the second half as Ward went in from the 4 with 7:47 left in the third quarter. Cade Middleton added the two-point conversion.
Wyatt Hensley put the Eagles back in control as he caught a 36-yard TD pass from Ostrander with 8:56 remaining in regulation. Wyatt Gay caught the two-point conversion pass for a 22-8 lead.

Harlan needed only two plays to answer after a roughing the passer penalty against the Eagles. Middleton found Will Austin for a 22-yard touchdown pass then added the two-point conversion.

Leslie had a chance to put the game away but a drive stalled near midfield after an incomplete pass on third down.

Ward made the play of the season when he broke into the open, then broke a handful of tackles on the way to a 56-yard TD run. Dawson Irvin caught a two-point conversion pass from Middleton to put the Dragons up 24-22 with 1:53 left.

“They went to a ’50’ and had an extra guy in coverage and I told coach we should run our counter there, and we did and it was wide open and Jayden made a heck of a run and ran over a couple of people,” Perry said. “He’s still gimpy and hadn’t practiced all week. We didn’t think we would play him, but he said he was starting to feel pretty good. I’m real happy for the seniors. They played so hard. They wanted to go out with a win, and I was proud of them.”

Hensley had two big catches as the Eagles responded, first a 25-yard pass near the sideline, then an 8-yard touchdown with 1:12 to play. Hensley also caught a pass on the conversion for a 30-24 lead.

Middleton completed four passes as the Dragons went 56 yards, capped by a 12-yard TD pass to Dylan Middleton with 12 seconds left in regulation. Cade Middleton was stopped on the two-point attempt to send the game to overtime after the Eagles were stopped near midfield on the kickoff.

Ostrander went in from the 3 on the second play of overtime, but he was stopped on the two-point attempt.

Ward went in from the 2 on the second play of the Dragons’ possession, then Cade Middleton followed with the winning two-point conversion.

Harlan (4-6) will travel to Pineville on Thursday for the first round of the Class A playoffs. Leslie County (2-8) will play at Middlesboro on Friday in the first round of the 2A playoffs.