With the state’s top rushing attack, there is little mystery surrounding the Harlan County offense. Stopping it, however, has been a much more difficult task. The Lincoln County Patriots will be the latest team to attempt to slow down the Bears as the travel to Harlan County for the first round of the 5A state playoffs on Friday.
“You want to control the game offensively, because they are so productive themselves on offense,” said Lincoln County coach Mike Settles. “You want to be able to have success offensively to have a shot to win in the fourth quarter.”
The Bears’ physical rushing attack has produced 3,789 yards and 49 touchdowns on the ground this season. Harlan County has eight players with over 100 yards rushing on the season, led by senior Jake Middleton with 1,757. Continuing that success could more difficult this week, as fullback Carson Whitehead and a pair of offensive linemen are currently hampered by injuries.
“Our line of scrimmage is getting the job done up there, but it will be a little different out there with us missing those guys,” Larkey said.
Lincoln County fell 55-27 at Harlan County in the second round of the playoffs last season, but Settles said he hopes that experience will result in an improved performance this season.
“We had never played at Harlan County until last season, so it was a good experience for us,” he said. “We didn’t win, but I feel like that experience is going to prepare us for this first round game.”
According to Settles, matching Harlan County’s physicality will be a key for his Patriots in the latest matchup.
“Harlan County was the most physical team that we played all of last year. They have some different players this year, but the concept is the same. Coach Larkey is consistent with his philosophy. That is why he has had so much success,” he said. “It is more of a mentality. It is being prepared for a physical game. We have had two weeks to prepare for it, and that is important. We remember how physical a game it was last year, and the toll it took on our kids.”
Much like the Black Bears, Lincoln County will rely on a run-oriented attack on the offensive side of the ball.
“They line up similar to us. They run a lot out of the Pro-I and the Power-I. They probably line up in the shotgun and do more passing than we do. I feel like we will be O.K. as long as they are in the running game,” Larkey said. “They have a great tailback, great fullback and a quarterback that can run it and throw it. They have some weapons on offense.”
If facing Harlan County isn’t enough for the Patriots, the must also prepare for one of the most raucous environments in southeastern Kentucky.
“We know there are a lot of people behind Harlan County football right now. Last year’s experience helped us to understand that. Going in we know what to expect, but at the same time we are going to enjoy the moment,” said Settles. “To play in a facility that we are going to play in is very exciting. Most small colleges don’t get to play in a facility like that.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.