In a battle of big plays against ball control, the Cumberland Redskins found a way to survive despite spending a good portion of their seventh- and eighth-grade game Thursday at Harlan on defense.
Zac Collett completed touchdown passes of 73 and 70 yards and Josh Swanner returned an interception 90 yards for a score as the Redskins edged Harlan 18-16.
The Dragons played their best game of the season and ended the game only 5 yards away from their first win when quarterback Conner Scearse was brought down, fumbling as he stretched for the goal line on what he knew would be the last play since the Dragons had no timeouts.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot with penalties, but hats off to Harlan. They played hard,” Cumberland coach Wes Bailey said. “We had some big plays and they controlled the ball. We were very fortunate. We have to get better now and Thursday.”
Harlan drove deep into Cumberland territory on its first possession as Ethan Clem had a 30-yard run and Jeremiah Mills caught a Scearse pass. Swanner turned the momentum on a fourth-and-nine play he picked off a Scearse pass and took it back 90 yards for a score with 55 seconds left in the opening period.
A long by Clem and a couple of penalties against the Redskins put Harlan in position to score in the second quarter, but Trey Brock had a tackle for a loss as the drive stalled.
Collett needed only a couple of plays to put Cumberland on the board again when he found Donovan Simmons behind the defense for a 73-yard touchdown pass. Jesse Cornett made a story on the two-point attempt but Cumberland led 12-0 with 52 seconds left in the half.
Simmons picked off a Scearse pass to end the half.
Harlan completed a drive in the third quarter with the help off a pass interference penalty. Clem picked up a first down to the Cumberland 14, then Scearse ran through several arm tackles for a 13-yard touchdown with 3:59 left in the third quarter. Clem went in for the two-point conversion.
Collett teamed with Tyler Flanary for a 70-yard touchdown pass with 2:15 to play in the period as the Skins extended their lead to 18-8.
Harlan went back to work on offense as Scearse teamed with Cornett for a 29-yard catch to set up Clem’s 8-yard touchdown run with 6:08 to play in the game. Scearse went in for the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to four.
The Dragons got the ball back and drove deep into Cumberland territory, despite a couple of big plays on defense by Justin Adams. Harlan ran its last play with 14 seconds left as Scearse was stopped short before losing a fumble that Jacob Holland recovered.
“I’m really proud of our boys. They played hard,” Harlan coach Chris Thompson said. “I asked them to at the beginning of the game to have some fun and play with some excitement. I asked them at halftime to give everything they had for 16 minutes, and that’s exactly what they did. I’m proud of the the determination they played with. I’m proud of the heart these boys show week after week. I will go to battle with them until the last whistle blows.”
Clem led the Dragons with 151 yards on 26 carries. Scearse contributed 31 yards on six carries and completed one of five passes for 29 yards.
Cornett, Clem and Brayden Shanks led in tackles with four each.
Cumberland (4-1) plays host to Evarts on Thursday. Harlan (0-5) plays host to Lynn Camp on Sept. 15.
Harlan improved to 5-0 in fifth- and sixth-grade football action with a 30-6 win over Cumberland in a battle of unbeaten teams.
Donovan Montanaro gained 115 yards on 10 carries, with two touchdowns and three two-point conversions.
Tristan West added 101 yards on 14 carries, with one touchdown and a 61-yard kickoff return.
Montanaro led the Harlan defense with four tackles and an interception. Landon Phillips had three tackles. Joseph Shepherd added two tackles, including one for a loss.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134