Not certain what to expect from his team in its opening game, New Harlan coach Jon Reynolds found plenty of positives in the Patriots’ 32-14 victory Tuesday over visiting Whitley County, one of only two teams to beat New Harlan in middle school football action last year.
“Mental toughness was what we wanted to work on, and I thought they took a step forward on that,” Reynolds said.
Josh Turner and Matt Brown each scored two touchdowns and Hunter Blevins added one as the Patriots’ big-play offense was more than enough to make up for an inconsistent defense that made some big plays and gave up several others.
“It’s probably my fault. We’ve not worked on tackle drills as much as we should, so obviously we’ll do more of that,” Reynolds said. “I’ve been trying to keep our guys healthy and was more focused on mental focus than technique.”
Brown put New Harlan on the board first, using his big-play ability in a 55-yard punt return. Jordan Steele’s extra point gave the Patriots a 7-0 lead.
After Brown recovered an onside kick, the Patriots struck quickly again with the help of a little luck. Quarterback Cody Clayborne was under pressure when a threw a pass while on the move that Turner pulled down, then broke several tackles on the way to a 40-yard touchdown. Steele’s extra point pushed the lead to 14-0 with 2:59 left in the first quarter.
Turner and Gary Jones combined on a fourth down stop on the final play of the first period, setting up a long New Harlan drive that featured a couple of big gains by Brown to set up a 6-yard TD run by Turner. The Patriots’ lead was 20-0 after the extra point attempt failed.
Whitley scored late in the half on a 7-yard touchdown run by Jake Broughton, cutting the deficit to 20-6.
Brown picked up a big block by tight end Hunter Helton to start the scoring in the second half, escaping to the outside as Helton sealed the edge on a 50-yard TD run for a 26-6 lead as the extra point attempt was blocked.
New Harlan drove inside the Whitley 10 after a Blevins interception, but the drive stalled and Broughton broke free again, time time for 56 yards and a touchdown. The two-point conversion cut the deficit to 26-14 as the third quarter ended.
Blevins wasted no time answering as he rumbled 51 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to close the scoring.
The New Harlan defense took over from there as Steele Turner and Helton each had tackles for losses on the Colonels’ next drive. Helton’s tackle on fourth down gave the ball back to the Patriots.
Whitley had one last chance in the final minute before Turner closed the game with an interception.
“We tried to spread the ball around, but we really only ran two plays the second half,” Reynolds said. “We switched a lot of guys in and did a pretty good job overall.”
New Harlan (1-0) returns to action Thursday at Middlesboro.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134