A trip to Richmond last Saturday to take on Bryan Station in their season opener taught the Harlan County Black Bears a few things about their team.
The Bears learned, in very painful fashion, that they are not yet equipped to cover a team with four fast and athletic receivers like Bryan Station put on the field, especially when a mobile quarterback like Andre Davis is behind center. Davis connected on six of six passes for 204 yards and five touchdowns in a 56-22 win over Harlan County.
Fortunately for Harlan County, it’s unlikely there are more than a handful of teams in the state with that kind of personnel.
Harlan County (0-1) will try to bounce back from that loss in its home opener Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Clay County in the ARH Bowl. The Bears rolled past Clay 42-0 last season and the Tigers went on to finish 2-9.
“This is a game we can win and you need to win all the games you have a chance at winning,” Harlan County coach Tom Larkey said. “This is one we need to win and it could give us some confidence before we head to Belfry next week.”
Clay County (1-0) comes into the game following a confidence-boosting 27-7 victory last week over Perry Central, a team that beat the Tigers 21-0 a year ago.
“It was a big win. We knew going in it would be tough,” Clay County coach Evan Napier said.
Senior tailback Sam Carr, the Tigers’ leading rusher last year, ran for 132 yards and one touchdown in the win over Perry Central.
“Carr is a great runner. He was a great runner last year. We have to stop him,” Larkey said. “Coach Napier has done a good job with them, and I feel they are a much improved team from last year. They have a huge line and will just wallow you to the ground. Our defense will have to be aggressive, fly to the football and make good tackles. We can’t let Carr loose in the secondary. We have to stop him from getting started. That’s the best way to play defense.”
Several other Tigers also contributed as Jacob Reid rushed for 59 yards, Dakota Byrd added 53 and Nick Alevras contributed 42. Sophomore quarterback Will Sexton completed four of five passes for 75 yards, all to senior Ryan Holland, last year’s starting signal caller.
“They are running a new offense, the Wing T,” Larkey said. “They will run some sweeps and traps, shuffle passes and waggle passes. It’s a very tricky offense. We’ll be able to play a different type of defense this week and put some quicker people on the line of scrimmage.
The Tigers lost Reid, a standout senior linebacker, and Wes Wolfe, a junior receiver/defensive back, to injuries in the Perry Central game. Reid is expected to miss the entire season with a torn MCL, and Wolfe is out for two weeks with a high ankle sprain.
“I was pleased with the way our kids stepped up after having some adversity,” Napier said.
Harlan County couldn’t stop the Bryan Station offense last week but had no problems moving the football with 351 yards on the ground, led by Dylan Cornett with 157 yards. Bobby Huff, Jake Ball and Hunter Lewis also had success running the ball. Four turnovers inside the Bryan Station 30 prevented HCHS from keeping the game competitive.
“They are a very physical and well coached team,” Napier said. “We’re starting five new people this week due to injuries, and I want to see how far we’ve come since last year. That’s our goal, and if we are able to pull the upset that’s even better. We have to play our best game to compete with them.”
Napier isn’t buying the theory that this will be a rebuilding year for the Bears.
“People say Harlan County is down, but Harlan County ain’t down,” he said. “They ran into a very good Bryan Station team. The thing I like about them, which is what we try to teach our kids, is they will do anything asked of them. We’re trying to instill that in our program.”