MIDDLESBORO — Records, it has been said many times, can be deceiving.
Heading toward one of the worst season in school history at 0-5, the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets built a big lead and held on for a 28-21 win Friday over previously unbeaten Harlan.
The Dragons, now 5-1, rallied from a 28-7 deficit by holding Middlesboro out of the end in the second half, but Harlan’s comeback was cut short by failing to score on three trips inside the 20, including two inside the 10, in the second half.
Harlan took the ball inside the 10 on its first possession of the second half after Middlesboro’s Caleb Heck missed a 36-yard file. Logan Capps dropped Harlan quarterback Tanner Parks a yard short of the end zone on fourth and four.
The Dragons were back in business at the Middlesboro early in the fourth quarter, but Taylor McClelland dropped Kilian Ledford, who had moved to quarterback on that possession, for a five-yard loss on third down. Kendal Brock was brought down a yard short of the end zone on fourth down.
Harlan reached the end zone on its third possession, a 4-yard run by Brock, to pull within seven points with 8:19 left.
The Dragons had one more chance after Ledford recovered a fumble on the Harlan 35 on a fourth-down stop with 5:08 to play.
Nick Jarvis picked up three first downs as Harlan got as close as the Middlesboro 11 before starting to go the other way. Joey Foreman dropped Parks for a 10-yard loss on third down, and Parks’ fourth-down pass to Caleb Adkins on fourth down fell incomplete.
Middlesboro’s option offense was especially effective early in the game as senior quarterback Dylan Pratt, taking over for the injured Chase Elliott, had the Dragons guessing on whether he would run it, hand it to Logan Capps or throw it. Middlesboro needed only three Capps runs to reach the end zone on the opening drive as he broke free up the middle for a 55-yard TD run. Heck hit the extra point for a 7-0 lead only 20 seconds into the game.
Brock and Adkins each picked up first downs as the Dragons drove into Middlesboro territory on their opening drive, which ended when Anthony Jackson picked off a Parks pass at the Middleboro 7.
A McClelland catch covered 24 yards, then Pratt broke free up the middle for a 53-yard touchdown run. Heck’s extra point pushed the Jackets’ lead to 14-0 with 3:52 to play in the first quarter.
Brock and Jarvis each picked up big gains as the Harlan offense finally got going as the second quarter opened. Paul Stapleton went the final 4 yards for a touchdown. Ledford’s kick cut the deficit to 14-7 with 10:09 left in the half.
Capps answered with an 18-yard TD run, followed by Heck’s kick, to push the lead back to 14 with 8:19 to play in the first half. Harlan appeared to have the drive stopped early when a snap went over Pratt’s head on the first play of the series. With at least four Dragons surrounding him, Pratt escaped and picked up nine yards instead of losing over 10.
Harlan appeared to be marching for another score when Jarvis coughed the ball up after a hard hit. Pratt picked the ball out of the air and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. Heck’s extra point extended the Middlesboro lead to 21 with 3:48 left.
With Jarvis out temporarily after turning his ankle, freshman Troy Barton had two big runs to get the Dragons into Middlesboro territory. Jarvis appeared headed for the end zone when the ball came loose again, but this time Harlan had better luck as junior receiver Noah Busroe fell on it in the end zone. Ledford’s kick cut the deficit to 14 with 49.4 seconds remaining in the half.
Harlan returns to action Friday at home against Rye Cove, Va.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134