The talented Harlan senior class has been aiming to knock Class A power Hazard from atop the district since their sophomore season. That group will get one final shot on Friday.
“When you are playing the defending state champ, of course you mark that one on your calendar. Coach Dixon and his staff have a good program,” said Harlan coach J.B. Donahue.
Like past squads, Hazard is again full of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Senior Evan Whitaker orchestrates the offense under center. Whitaker has completed 66 passes for 986 yards on the season. Jordan Olinger and Austin Johnson have combined for 44 receptions and over 600 yards at receiver, and Brandon Jones has added 261 yards on the ground.
“I think they have a lot of good playmakers. Those kids have a lot of experience and play good sound defense. The key for us is to get pressure on the quarterback, and we can’t just let them line up and run the ball when they want to,” Donahue said.
With both teams full of offensive standouts, the game will likely be decided in other areas.
“It will come down to who doesn’t turn the ball over. In my opinion, both teams are good football teams, and both have the potential to win the game,” said Hazard coach Mark Dixon. “Whoever takes care of the football will probably come out on top. That is usually how it works”
“Controlling the line of scrimmage will be a big key for us on offense and defense,” Donahue added.
The 2011 state champions enter the contest at just 2-3, but have played one of the toughest schedules in southeastern Kentucky to this point.
“I think any time you play tough opponents it shows where your weaknesses are and gives you a chance to work on them,” said Dixon. “We have come up short against some good teams and have a lot of room to improve.”
Friday’s contest will likely determine the champion of District 6.
“This game means a lot in terms of home field advantage in the playoffs. It is really not the do all and end all of the season because it is not playoff time yet, but it gives the winning team a chance to play more games at home,” Dixon said. “Our kids know what it’s like to play against some tough teams and against some of the top teams in the state. They are used to big atmospheres now. I don’t know if that is an advantage or it hurts, because sometimes they don’t seem as excited.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.