Harlan and Pineville have taken different paths to the ‘Battle of 119’, but this week’s winner likely won’t be concerned with much that happened before Friday. The Mountain Lions enter the state’s third oldest rivalry as winners of their last four contests. Meanwhile, the Dragons have allowed a pair of games to slip through their fingers on their way to a 1-6 record. None of that will matter after the district clash, however, as the winner will likely be on its way to the second seed in the district and a home playoff game.
“We haven’t got the best of this rivalry in a long time. We have come close in last five or six years and played some real exciting games,” said Pineville coach Bart Elam. “This is the most important game of season because it’s probably for a home playoff game. We are excited about the rivalry. It’s a fun week. Our kids get fired up, as I know Harlan does.”
The Green Dragons have controlled the series in recent memory, winning the last 12 meetings. Harlan’s last loss to Pineville came in 2000. However, Elam has steadily returned the Pineville program to competitiveness and the Mountain Lions have reduced the final deficit in each of the last three games in the series.
“This is a whole new year and a new team both ways, but we hope (the previous success) will give us some confidence going into the game on Friday,” said Harlan coach J.B. Donahue. “It is a big rivalry game. It has determined a home playoff game in the past and has been in our favor for a long time. It will be tough being on the road. They have a good team. They have won four in a row and are playing with a lot of confidence. Coach Elam and his staff do a good job and get their kids ready to play.”
Pineville features a high-scoring attack that has posted at least 30 points in all but one game this season. The offense is led by players both young and old. Conner Ford leads a balanced rushing attack. The senior has carried the ball 74 times for 641 yards and 11 touchdowns. Sophomore Brad Fuson has added 641 yards and 10 scores on 89 runs. Tuck Woolum orchestrates the offense. The freshman signal-caller has completed 52-of-95 passes for 908 yards and nine touchdowns. Woolum’s top target is fellow freshman Will Adams, who has hauled in 19 receptions for 316 yards and two scores.
“They are thunder and lightning and form a good combination. We have a hard-nosed runner in Fuson and then Ford is really dynamic and can score from anywhere on the field,” Elam said. “We knew (Woolum and Adams) were both good players coming in. I was worried about throwing them into the fire early, but they have done well throughout the year.”
While Pineville will rely on several options on the offensive side of the ball, there is little doubt as to where the Green Dragons will look. Senior Cory Chorak has shouldered the load for the Harlan offense throughout the season and that likely won’t change this week. Chorak has carried the ball 143 times for 698 yards and eight touchdowns.
“J.B. always knows how to run the football and always has when he has a running back like Chorak,” Elam said. “He is very dangerous. He can run with power and score from anywhere.”
If the Dragons are to get Chorak and quarterback Tanner Morris going this week, it will be behind an experienced offensive line.
“We have to control the line of scrimmage in order to control and win the game. Whether we are in our base spread offense or in the Power-I, we have to be able to control the line of scrimmage,” Donahue said.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
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The Green Dragons fell 48-13 to Hazard in last week’s district opener.
The score remained 6-0 until Kody Arnett ran 25 yards with under three minutes left in the first half. After Hazard recovered an onside kick, Brandon Jones went in from the 13. A pass from Morgan to Chris Hudson pushed the lead to 20-0 by halftime.
Junior fullback Tye Patrick scored on a 4-yard run for the Dragons in the third quarter. Cory Chorak set up the touchdown with a 42-yard run. Chorak again led the Harlan offense with 81 yards on 16 carries.
Tanner Morris teamed with Samuel Burkhart for a 75-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Boone Allison’s extra point closed the scoring.