It may be hard to believe, but Harlan Countywill close out the first half of the regular season on Friday. The Black Bears will hit the road for their latest stop in a grueling early season schedule as they make the trip to Johnson Central. The Eagles are currently ranked fifth in the state in Class 4A and fourth in the WYMT Mountain Top Ten. Johnson Central is the third of fourth straight opponents Harlan County will face that are ranked in the top 10 in the state in their class.
Harlan County turned arguably its best performance of the early season last week in a 48-13 rout of previously unbeaten Knox Central. The Black Bears were physically dominant on their way to nearly 500 yards on the ground. Harlan County will attempt to repeat that performance again this week.
“We got pretty physical and lined up and ran the kind of football I like.We were able to rotate a lot of backs in and out and I thought we looked pretty good,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “We are going to try to start off with the same stuff as last week and see what we can do. We need to run the football and get physical this week. We have got multiple backs that can run the ball and different offenses we can line up in.”
The Eagles have a similar offensive philosophy, relying primarily on the ground. The Johnson Central wishbone attack has perennially produced one of the state’s top rushing totals. Coach Jim Matney’s squads always feature talent in the backfield, including the state’s all-time leading rusher in 2011 graduate J.J. Jude. This year’s team is no different as a pair of 1,000-yard rushers return in Jordan Young and Daymion Belcher.
“We work hard at trying to run the football and have had some very talented kids. We usually have several kids carry the ball, and have two 1,000 yard rushers back from last year,” Matney said. “We will try to do the best we can to move the ball against Harlan County.”
Johnson Central has outscored opponents by an average of 50 points per game, while scoring at least 53 points in each of their three wins this season.
“They have a pretty potent offense, so we have spent a lot of time in practice to get the kids disciplined on defense to take the different running backs and make their reads,” Larkey said.
While Johnson Central has been virtually untested through three games, Matney knows the Black Bears will pose a much more difficult challenge. Harlan County hasn’t had any trouble slowing down opponents this season. The Bears’ “Filthy Animals” defense has limited each of their four opponents to their scoring lowest output of the year.
“I think we are getting a little better each week, and this will be a good test for us. I think we have just played some young programs. Harlan County has the oldest team coming back of any team we ave played,” he said. “Any time you play one of coach Larkey’s teams it’s always a physical game. I have a lot of respect for the Harlan County program. I have followed football there for over 30 years.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.