BROOKSVILLE — Beaten at their own game, described by Harlan coach J.B. Donahue as “grind-it-out football,” the Green Dragons had no answer when they found themselves down in the second half on a warm and windy Saturday afternoon at Bracken County High School.
Bracken County (2-1) rolled up 200 yards on the ground with no punts in an efficient day on offense that put the Dragons in catch-up mode by the third quarter, a style that Harlan (2-1) didn’t have to play in two blowouts to open the season.
Harlan could manage only six yards through the air as sophomore quarterback Kilian Ledford completed one of eight passes in a 20-7 loss.
“I think the wind bothered him some,” Donahue said. “I think it got in head his, too. He threw a couple of balls that went astray early and it got in his head. We have to be more effective in the passing game. The first two games we ran over people. We weren’t able to do that today.”
Junior fullback Griffin Appleman scored two of the Polar Bears’ touchdowns with runs in the first and fourth quarters. Senior running back Nick Parker led the Bracken ground game with 82 yards on 10 carries. Tad Fisher, a sophomore wingback, added 69 yards on 12 carries.
“My hat is off to them. They found a weak area and attacked it well,” Donahue said. “I didn’t think we did a great job adjusting defensively. We were missing a couple of pieces defensively, and Bracken County played well.”
Harlan was without senior linebacker Tanner Parks, ill this week due to an apparent case of pleurisy.
Bracken coach Mike Sizemore said the win was the biggest in the 15-year history of the program. The Dragons came into the game ranked eighth in the state in the Associated Press Class A poll.
“Our defense stepped up and played extremely great. We felt like we had a good handle on how Harlan was going to attack us,” Sizemore said. “We felt like we could really play well against that type of offensive system and our guys executed the gameplan flawlessly.”
The Dragons were had 169 yards rushing as a team as Bracken picked up 14 first downs compared to 10 for Harlan.
“It was an odd day. Our goal was to keep it away from them because they have two or three kids who run it well,” Donahue said.
Harlan also hurt itself with penalties with 11 for 100 yards.
“We had some penalties that hurt us, and that really hurts when you’re playing it grind it out football,” Donahue said. “A couple of them might have been questionable but a couple were blatantly obvious. I’m not complaining about calls though. That didn’t beat us.”
Logan Teegarden gave Bracken a lead in the opening seconds as he found a lane down the sideline and returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown.
“The wind pulled the ball towards me, Tad (Fisher) laid a nasty block, I ran straight through that hole and I was gone after that,” Teegarden said in a report in the Maysville Ledger Independent. “It was important, it got us fired up and we were ready to go and go out and hit someone.”
After stopping the Dragons after only four plays, Bracken was back in business on offense with an eight-play drive that covered 76 yards. Appleman went the final 7 yards for a touchdown. Fisher added a two-point conversion for a 14-0 lead with 6:01 left in the first quarter.
Harlan drove into Bracken territory on its second drive before a Kendal Brock fumble ended the threat. Ledford ran for a first down to the Bracken 27 on the third drive, which ended with two incomplete passes.
Bracken quarterback Trey Deaton attempted only three passes and completed two, both late in the second quarter when the Polar Bears drove to the Harlan 28. The first pass came on a fourth-and-10 play from the Bracken 27, a surprising coaching decision that paid off, at least until senior tackle Bryce Browning broke through for a sack to end the threat on the last play of the first half.
Harlan put together its only scoring drive in the third quarter, marching 58 yards in 10 plays. Christian Boggs started the series with a 28-yard run and Brock carried the final four plays, scoring on a 1-yard run with 58.6 seconds left in the third quarter. Boone Allison’s extra point cut the Bracken lead in half.
Down by two possession at this point, Harlan needed to move the ball down the field quickly but couldn’t. The Dragons had only one first down in the fourth quarter.
Harlan returns to action Friday at Jackson County.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134