Harlan County closed the 7-on-7 summer passing portion of its preseason Saturday in a camp at South Laurel High School, finishing second out of nine teams.
The Black Bears won all three of their pool games, defeating Letcher Central B 41-7, Taylor County 26-16 and McCreary Central 37-25.
Harlan County opened tournament play with a 25-6 win over South Laurel before the extreme heat started taking its toll as the Bears lost their top receiver Tyrese Simmons and senior running back Rhett Alred to cramps in a 31-8 loss to Letcher Central in the winners bracket finals.
The Bears rallied for a 26-25 win over McCreary Central in the losers bracket finals before falling to Letcher Central again in the championship game.
Simmons was unstoppable in the win over South Laurel, catching a couple of touchdown passes from Jacob Branson in the first half. Branson also had an interception, worth three points in 7-on-7 play, between his touchdown throws for a 17-3 halftime lead.
Harlan County picked up two more points in the second half on defensive stops, worth one point each. The Bears closed the scoring when Branson found junior tight end Lamar Burkhart for a touchdown on the final play of the scrimmage.
Branson and Simmons teamed for a touchdown pass in the loss to Letcher, the only bright spot for the Bears. Devon Rodrigues and Quintin Mickens had catches for HCHS in the second half but the Bears were held scoreless.
Harlan County had to battle from behind in the tournament win over McCreary Central with several starters out.
Branson teamed with Hunter Owens for a first down before connecting with Chris English for a touchdown.
Branson threw to Mickens for a touchdown late in the first half, then found English for the two-point conversion as McCreary led 15-14 at halftime.
The Raiders built a 10-point lead in the closing minutes before HCHS rallied.
Branson teamed with Mickens for a touchdown and Rodrigues for a conversion to pull the Bears within two.
The Harlan County defense made the decisive play as sophomore linebacker Garry Henson intercepted a pass in the final minute for the deciding three points.
In the pool play win over McCreary, Branson teamed with Simmons for three touchdowns and Mickens for one. He threw to Mickens for a pair of conversions and to Josh Downey for one.
In the win over Taylor County, Mickens had two touchdown catches while Simmons and Rodrigues added one each. Rodrigues also caught a conversion pass.
A second Harlan County team also participated, finishing 1-2 in pool play.
Harlan County will be at home on Aug. 11 to play Corbin and Leslie County in the Southeastern Kentucky Conference Gridorama. The Meet the Bears event is set for Friday at Coal Miners Memorial Stadium, beginning with an alumni game at 6 p.m.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134