From The Sidelines — A look ahead to what the pigskin prognosticator expects from Bears, Dragons in ’22 season


John Henson

It’s a football tradition that goes back through parts of five decades for me. My preseason prognostications started in 1986 and involved all four high school teams we had in Harlan County at the time.
It was easy to make people mad no matter how you picked the games. The predictions often prompted criticism if the team wasn’t picked to win as many games as their fans expected. Sometimes the coaches involved were upset if I picked their team to win too many games, adding pressure they didn’t want or need going into the season.
They were always a lot of fun though and something I’ve tried to continue even now that we have only two high schools in Harlan County.
The following is my annual review of what I expect to happen this fall for the Harlan County Black Bears and Harlan Green Dragons.

Harlan County (4-6)
Coming off a two-win season in 2021, the Black Bears appear determined to turn things around this fall and looked good in a 34-8 scrimmage win over Magoffin County. Replacing Demarco Hopkins and his over 1,500 yards rushing won’t be easy and a defense that struggled to stop the pass or tackle must improve if HCHS is to make it back to the playoffs after missing last season for the first time.
A win over South Laurel to start the season is crucial since that is one of the teams the Bears beat last fall. I will give the Bears the edge at home, both against South Laurel and a Hazard team that rolled past them last year. I’ll pick HC to lose on the road at Whitley County and Knox Central the next two weeks, but a split is certainly possible and would signal the Bears are ready to compete in their district.
Harlan County needs a win at home in week five against Pike Central, the other team they beat last year, and should be able to accomplish that goal and take a 3-2 record into district play.
The Bears were 0-5 in district competition last season and it’s hard to say for certain they will be favored over anyone win the district at this point. I’ll take HC at home against Clay County, but list the games against Letcher Central, Johnson Central and Perry Central as losses. The Bears used to own both the Cougars and Commodores and will need to avenge losses to both to get back to their accustomed position at home in the first round of the playoffs. I’ll take Bell County in the final game of the regular season in another contest that could go either way if the Bears have fixed their problems on defense and found a decent passing attack by late October.

Harlan (5-5)
The Green Dragons won four games last year and have a chance to improve on that number with most of their key players returning. Replacing standout quarterback Cade Middleton is the biggest question mark facing Harlan going into the regular season.
The Dragons lost on the road at Berea last year to open the season and need to avenge that loss if they are going to have a big season this fall. The Dragons should also win in the Pike County Bowl in week two against East Ridge. Harlan faces a tough stretch of games against Unaka, Tenn., Middlesboro and Sayre the next three weeks and I will pick the Dragons to lose all three, as they did last season.
Harlan should bounce back with a win over a rebuilding Phelps squad in their last non-district test before traveling to defending district champ Williamsburg on Oct. 7. I’ll take the Jackets to continue their district domination this year. Harlan should even its district record the following week against Lynn Camp before the annual showdown with Pineville. I’ll take the Lions in another close one, even though it certainly appears as if it could go either way. Harlan won a close game at home against Leslie County last year, but I’ll take the Eagles in the rematch at Hyden.