Most people associated with the Lincoln County football team had probably never heard of Harlan County before 2011. Now, making their third postseason trip into the deep dark hills of eastern Kentucky in as many seasons, the Patriots are well-aware of the challenge that awaits today in the first round of the state Class 5A playoffs.
“Harlan is an intimidating place to play. When you have experience playing there is benefits you as a team, but at the same time Harlan County is who they are. They are still a very good team that plays well in the playoffs,” said Lincoln County coach Mike Settles. “I feel like it is a tremendous challenge for us.”
Harlan County and Lincoln County met in the postseason in both 2011 and 2012., with the Black Bears winning convincingly in each of those meetings. HCHS downed the Patriots 55-27 in the second round two seasons ago, and 52-14 in the playoff opener last season.
“They came down here the past few years and got beat. I hope that is in their mind this year. I hope they come to Harlan County thinking we are better and more physical than they are. When they take the field I hope they have that in their minds,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey.
The Patriots enter the latest meeting at 5-5. However, each of Lincoln County’s losses have come to teams that will be favored to advance past the first round of the playoffs. The Pats were also one quarter away from pulling an upset of District 7 champion Pulaski County. Settles’ squad led in the second half and trailed by just five with eight minutes left before falling to the Maroons.
“They are no slouch team at all, and I have watched every game they have played. We have to go out and play our best to win,” said Larkey. “This is a new season for us. We know when you lose the next one you are done, and we don’t want that to happen. We are going to go out and try to carry on to another one.”
Harlan County is coming off of a four game win streak, during which they outscored opponents 180-43. The offensive line has been particularly impressive the last four weeks. The unit has paved the way for the Black Bears to rush for nearly 400 yards per game during that stretch.
“Watching Harlan County up front on film — they play so nasty. They are so aggressive. It is exciting for any coach to watch that mentality, because that is how you your want linemen to play,” Settles said. “Their run game is so powerful. If you try to stop something they do well they will try to find something else to take what you give them.”
Quarterback Dakota Godbey will lead a balanced Lincoln County offense. The Patriots are a threat to throw or run out of their multiple set attack. Godbey is surrounded by several weapons, including running back Marvin Robinson, receiver Trevor Gaines and tight end Casey Roberts.
“They line up in a lot of offensive formations. They have a lot of speed and athletes on the team. They do a good job of throwing the football. They are probably a little more balanced than a lot of teams we have played,” said Larkey. “They mix it up good and throw the ball a lot. The quarterback throws into a crowd sometimes, but the receivers always catch it. I think we can stop the run, but we have to put pressure on the quarterback and stop big plays in the passing game.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.