The Harlan County Black Bears contained Madison Southern standout Damien Harris for 36 minutes Friday. Unfortunately, there was one quarter left to play. The future Michigan Wolverine piled up 220 yards and four touchdowns in the final period as the visiting Eagles held off Harlan County 41-28 in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
“We played decent for three quarters,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “We tried to play catch up football, but he ran wild on us the fourth quarter.”
Both defenses turned in solid efforts in the first half.
Harlan County limited Harris to 80 of his 356 yards in the first two quarters. The Bears recorded a defensive stand on Madison Southern’s first possession, but the Eagles opened the scoring on their second drive.
The Eagles started the drive in Harlan County territory after a Black Bear punt to the 46. Harris broke free four plays into the drive when he raced 38-yards into the end zone for the score. The two-point pass was incomplete and Madison Southern led 6-0.
The Eagles threatened to extend their lead early in the second quarter. Quarterback Aaron Slone connected with receiver William Dean on a 35-yard pass play. However, Cole Wilson ran Dean down at the Harlan County 12. Wilson forced a fumble and Harlan County’s Fred Massey pounced on the ball.
The Black Bears capitalized on the turnover. Five plays later, senior Zach Chitwood broke free for a 70-yard touchdown run. Wilson added the extra point to put Harlan County up 7-6.
Harris put the Eagles back on top with his second touchdown of the first half. The junior running back scored on a 25-yard run with 3:45 left in the half. Casey Dionne ran in the two-point conversion to make it 14-7.
Harlan County responded with a score on the ensuing possession. The Black Bears marched 49 yards on a seven-play drive. The scoring play came on fourth down, as quarterback Scotty Bailey scrambled out of the pocket and connected with Fred Massey on a 10-yard score with 24 seconds left in the half. The extra point was no good and Harlan County trailed 14-13 at the break.
The teams exchanged defensive stands throughout the third quarter, and Madison Southern maintained the one-point lead heading into the final period.
The Eagles extended their advantage on the first play of the fourth quarter, as Harris went in from 42-yards out. Garrison Watts added the extra point to make it 21-13.
After a defensive stand, Harris made it a two-score game with a 70-yard touchdown run on the first play of the following Eagle possession. The kick failed and Madison Southern led 27-13.
Harlan County closed the gap with an impressive drive. The Black Bears covered 60 yards on nine plays to reduce the deficit to six. Senior Carson Whitehead served as the workhorse, carrying the ball six times for 52 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown run. Whitehead also ran in the two-point conversion to make it 27-21.
Madison Southern recovered an on-side attempt on the ensuing kickoff to take over at their own 47. Harris turned in his fifth score of the night five plays later with a 32-yard touchdown run. Watts’ extra point made it 34-21 with 2:41 left in the contest.
The Black Bears weren’t finished yet.
Bailey orchestrated a five-play drive that covered 63 yards in just over one minute. Bailey connected with Wilson three times on the drive, including a 12-yard touchdown. Wilson added the extra point to close the gap to 34-28 with 1:40 remaining.
Harlan County received a good bounce on the on-side attempt that followed, but Dionne hauled in the kick at the Madison Southern 42.
Harris turned in his sixth score of the game and put the contest out of reach with a 59-yard touchdown run on third down. Watts added the extra point.
Friday’s loss marked the final game for an accomplished class of Harlan County seniors. The group helped lead the Black Bears to four straight district titles and two regional championships during their careers.
“I’m not a bit ashamed of the season we had. These seniors had four great years,” Larkey said.
Madison Southern (10-1) will travel to Pulaski County next week in the regional championship. The Maroons shut out Perry Central 43-0 on Friday. Harlan County closes the season at 8-4.