With the bye coming at an inopportune time, Harlan County has had the last two weeks to reflect on a pair of disappointing losses. It appears that was time well spent. The Black Bears looked like the regional favorite many expected Friday as they mauled rival Letcher Central 49-7 to keep the Friends of Coal Bowl for another year.
“I thought our team played really hard. They have worked these last two weeks in practice. They have got together and bonded as a family and have really committed themselves to this football team,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “It is a big boost for us. Two straight losses and the open week will get you down, so this win will really help us.”
Harlan County dominated the visiting Cougars in each phase of the game. The Bears featured a balanced offensive effort. Senior quarterback Scotty Bailey completed 6 of 8 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Fred Massey led a ground game that added another 354 yards and five touchdowns. The junior running back had 116 yards and two touchdowns.
“I feel like we need to do that every game. We are going to continue to work on that and see if we can’t make it a bigger part of our offense,” Larkey said. “We played several different formations and threw the ball a little bit. I was pretty pleased with everything. We were disappointed in the penalties, but other than that I thought we played pretty good.”
Harlan County put together a seven-play drive that covered 52-yards on the opening possession. Bailey completed a pair of passes for 40-yards on the drive, including a 23-yard scoring pass to Nick Cornett in the back of the end zone for the score. The extra point failed and Harlan County led 6-0.
The Bears forced Letcher into three straight negative plays and a punt on the ensuing possession.
HC added to the lead with another impressive drive. Bailey carried the ball three times for 34 yards, capped by a 2-yard keeper up the middle with 3:22 left in the first. Massey ran in the two-point conversion to make it 14-0.
Harlan County limited Letcher to 1-yard of offense on the next two possessions to set up the third score of the night. It took the Bears just three plays to score after forcing the Panthers into their third punt on as many drives. Fred Massey turned in the scoring play when he broke free to the left side of the field for a 65-yard scamper into the end zone. The extra point try was no good and the Bears led 20-0 with 10:10 remaining in the half.
Bailey and the Black Bears added another score late in the half. The senior quarterback closed a six-play 78-yard drive with a 3-yard score at the 1:12 mark. Bailey and senior Cole Wilson each had runs over 35-yards to set up the score.
Harlan County turned in one more stop to close the half. Ovie Canady’s defense recorded stops on all eight Letcher Central drives in the first half.
The Cougars scored their only touchdown early in the second half. Hunter Hall broke free for a 48-yard score on the touchdown. Dustin Holbrook added the extra point less than one minute into the third quarter.
Harlan County answered with its own quick strike. Bailey delivered a shovel pass to senior Zach Chitwood, who raced 37-yards to the Letcher 40. Massey broke loose for a score on the next play. Massey also ran in the two-point convertion to put the Bears up 34-7 with 8:42 remaining in the quarter.
The Black Bears scored yet again on their next possession.
Derek Akal set up the touchdown with a fumble recovery and return to the Cougar 18. Tow plays later Bailey connected with Cornett for the duo’s second touchdown of the night. This time it was a 21-yard completion. Wilson’s kick extended the lead to 41-7 with just over five minutes left in the third.
The Harlan County reserves added another score late in the contest.
Freshman Rhett Alred reeled off an impressive 39-yard run into the end zone on the Bears’ final offensive play. Sophomore Jarett Ford found Nikki Huffaker for the two-point conversion.
Harlan County (4-3 overall, 1-0 district) returns to action next week at Whitley County. Letcher Central (3-4 overall , 0-1 district) will host Perry Central.