With Harlan County still fuming after a loss to Belfry last week, there probably wasn’t a worse time for Knox Central to make the trip to Coal Miner’s Memorial Stadium. The visiting Panthers paid for their poor timing Friday as Harlan County ran over Knox in a 48-13 rout.
“We try to put things behind us. I laid awake second-guessing myself. I have done that for 40 years now and it don’t help a bit,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “My best remedy is to get back in the locker room with my team. I’m not worried about Belfry. After I got back with my team on Monday and got to working on Knox Central I never looked back. We just have to look ahead now.”
The Black Bears were seemingly unstoppable on the ground as they ran to a touchdown on their first four drives of the first half. Harlan County piled up 310 yards on 38 carries in the first two quarters. Carson Whitehead led the way with 17 carries for 135 yards. Whitehead finished the contest with on 191 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
“There is no excuse for us to give up that much yardage. It seemed like they had the ball the whole first half and we only ran a handful of plays. Any time you let a team like that get on a roll, especially running the football, you are going to be in a for a long night,” said Knox Central coach Scott Russell.
Harlan County immediately turned to Whitehead on the opening possession. The senior carried the ball six times for 53 yards on the drive, including a 2-yard touchdown run with 9:17 remaining in the first. Whitehead ran in the two-point conversion to make it 8-0.
Zach Chitwood gave the ball back to Harlan County on the ensuing possession when he recovered a fumble and was brought down at the Bears’ 26.
Harlan County capitalized on the turnover just four plays later. Whitehead moved the ball to the 39 with a 23-yard run on the first play. Fred Massey took over from there. The junior back broke free for a 50 yard run to the Knox Central 10 on his first carry, and scored on the next play. Massey also added the two-point run to make it 16-0.
Knox Central got on the scoreboard on its next possession. Senior Jonathan Gist broke free for a 48-yard scamper into the end zone. The extra point made it 16-7.
That was as close as the Panthers got the rest of the way. Harlan County put the game out of reach with back-to-back scores on their next two drives.
Whitehead put the Bears up by two scores when he went in for the touchdown on a 4-yard run with 9:32 left in the half. Whitehead’s run capped a 13-play drive that covered 86 yards, all of which came on the ground. He added the two-point conversion to make it 24-7.
Harlan County forced a three-and-out to set up the next score.
This time it was Fred Massey who capped a methodical drive with a touchdown run. Massey went in from 3-yards out to close a 12-play drive that went 49 yards. Massey also ran in the two-point conversion as the lead grew to 32-7.
Knox Central closed the gap late in the half.
The Panther touchdown was set up through the air. The Harlan County defense was first flagged for a pass interference penalty. Freshman quarterback Casey Diamond connected with receiver Matthew Barger for a 38-yard completion that moved the ball to the Bears’ 20. Gist later closed the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to make it 32-13 with 1:30 left in the half.
Harlan County continue to pile up yards on the ground as it padded the lead. The Black Bears added 185 more rushing yards in the final two quarters to finish with 495 yards on 70 rushes.
“That is my kind of offense. I just like to put my playbook in my pocket. There are about four plays I like to run, and they ran those to perfection,” Larkey said.
Hunter Lewis scored the first touchdown of the second half on a 6-yard run up the middle with 5:08 left in the third quarter. Bobby Huff added the two-point run to stretch the advantage to 40-13.
Harlan County added another touchdown late in the fourth quarter as Chitwood raced in for the score from 27-yards out. Jarret Ford added the two-point conversion on a quarterback keeper to close the scoring with 3:51 remaining in the contest.
Defensive tackle J.T. Cabell ended the final Knox Central drive when he intercepted a tipped pass at midfield and returned the ball to the Knox Central 40.
“I thought we were a little better than 48-13. We had some opportunities there to make some plays and we didn’t. But, our hat’s off to Harlan County. I feel like they have a heck of a football team and will go far in the playoffs,” Russell said.
Harlan County (3-1) returns to action Friday at Johnson Central, while Knox Central (3-1) will host Bell County.