One week after showing they could be an effective running team in a hard-fought loss at Pulaski County, the Harlan County Black Bears went back to the air on Friday with impressive results.
Junior quarterback Jacob Branson passed for 298 yards and four touchdowns, while running for another, as the Bears rolled to a 51-14 win over visiting Clay County in the National Guard: Battle of the Week.
Junior receivers Tyrese Simmons and Colby King each caught two touchdown passes, providing a pair of big-play threats that Clay (1-1) had a hard time covering, especially with the threat of the run that HCHS established last week in gaining 211 yards against Pulaski County.
After being stopped on their first drive, the Bears struck quickly on their second after a sack by sophomore linebacker Garry Henson on third down stopped the Tigers. Simmons had a catch for 25 yards on the first play of the series and King followed two plays later with a catch across the middle that he turned into a 47-yard scoring play. Senior fullback Rhett Alred went in for the two-point conversion as the Bears took an 8-0 lead with 5:19 left in the first quarter.
Branson spread the ball around to a couple of other receivers the next time HCHS had the ball as Devin Rodrigues had two catches and Hunter Owens added one, giving the Bears a first down on the Clay 7. Branson took it in himself on the next play, then found Quintin Mickens for the two-point conversion for a 16-0 lead with 3:11 left in the opening quarter.
An especially ugly Harlan County possession to open the second quarter gave the Tigers good field position for their only scoring drive of the first half. Senior quarterback Will Sexton went in from the 2 with 9:44 left in the first half.
Harlan County went back to the wishbone on its next drive and junior running back Chase Coker immediately responded, bursting through the Clay line for a 53-yard run. Branson found Simmons for a 16-yard touchdown pass three plays later. Marcus Kelly hit the extra point for a 23-6 lead with 7:53 left in the first half. Coker led the Harlan County ground game with 80 yards on only three carries.
King and Rodrigues each had catches as the Bears drove 58 yards on a drive that was capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by Mickens on fourth down. The two-point conversion run failed but HCHS led 29-6 with 2:46 to play in the first half.
Harlan County added one more touchdown before the break when Branson found Simmons, who went over two defenders for the 18-yard scoring play.
King was the primary receiver on the Bears’ first drive of the second half as the speedy junior had a 28-yard catch on the first play of the half, then caught a 25-yard scoring pass from Branson on the fifth play of the drive, a fourth- and-eight play with 10:08 left in the third quarter. Branson faked a handoff to Simmons and the Tigers bit on the play, leaving King open over the middle. Kelly’s extra point pushed the lead to 44-6 and started a running clock with 10:10 left in the third quarter.
The HCHS defense posted the final score for the Bears when Rodrigues stepped in front of a Sexton pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown with 8:30 to play in the third quarter. Kelly hit the extra point to make the score 51-6.
Sexton and Ethan Hacker each had big gains as the Tigers drove for a score in the fourth quarter. Sexton went in from the 4 with 11:20 to play in the game, then found senior tight end Logan Gabbard for the two-point conversion.
Harlan County (1-1) travels to Belfry, the defending 3A state champion, on Friday.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134