In the middle of their best season of the century last fall, the Harlan Green Dragons stumbled their way to a 28-21 loss at Middlesboro, a painful reminder at the time of the importance of being ready to play every week.
You can be sure that the Dragons won’t need any reminders this week as they prepare for Friday’s game at home against Middlesboro.
“Not to take anything away from them, but I thought we laid an egg over there last year,” Harlan coach J.B. Donahue said. “As a coach, I want to bounce back, and I think our kids, as a team, want to bounce back. That’s been kind of a center of focus this week. I hope we’re honed in and have a lot better mental state this year.”
“We squeaked one out against them last year and might have been a little lucky,” said Middlesboro coach Zach Massingill. “If we show up ready to play it should be a good game, but we’ve not traveled real well this year. We have to be ready to play.”
The Jackets, who finished 1-10 last year, bring a 1-4 record into this year’s game. Middlesboro opened the season with losses to Bell County (34-18) and Whltley County (38-8) before upsetting Pineville (23-16). The Jackets fell to South Laurel (46-8) and Paris (28-25) the last two weeks.
Isiah Williams leads the Middlesboro offense with 249 yards rushing on 40 carries despite playing in only three games. Ethan Ellison has 192 yards rushing and three of the Jackets’ four rushing touchdowns. Owen McWilliams has 136 yards on the ground.
Ellison has completed 33 of 85 passes for 547 yards, with four touchdowns and six interceptions. Corey Hairston has 12 catches for 243 yards and three touchdowns. Anthony Jackson has added 10 catches for 146 yards.
Evan Brock, with 44 tackles, and Taylor McClelland, with 43, lead the Middlesboro defense.
“They have some good athletes, three or four of the best athletes in this area,” Donahue said. “I know they’ve been banged up, so I’m not sure how healthy they are, but they have several weapons to go to. They are dangerous and can score on any one play at any time.”
“The biggest thing for us is keeping everyone on the field,” Massingill said. “We’ve had some injuries to some key people. We won’t know if they will be able to play until we see if the trainer clears them.”
Harlan (3-1) bounced back from its first loss of the season a week earlier at Bracken County by rolling past Jackson County 42-22 last week.
Kendal Brock, a junior tailback, has led the Harlan offense with 320 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, including three touchdowns last week in a 131-yard night. Joey Swanner has added 165 yards on the ground.
Sophomore quarterback Kilian Ledford has completed 14 of 29 passes for 304 yards and is third in rushing with 159 yards.
“We have to be very disciplined defensively,” Massingill said. “J.B. has done a great job over there for years.”
Swanner, a senior linebacker, is the team leader in defense with 27 tackles. Ledford and senior tackle Thomas Morgan are tied for second with 19 tackles each. Caleb Adkins, a sophomore defensive back, has three interceptions, including two in last week’s win at Jackson County.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134