One week after the worst game of his career, Harlan County senior tailback Dylan Cornett faced off against an all-stater and outplayed him to send the Harlan County Black Bears to their biggest win in two years.
Cornett ran for 348 yards and five touchdowns on 24 carries to give the Black Bears a 45-35 victory over visiting Letcher Central, the defending District 8 champions.
Letcher star Jaylin Williams, who had over 1,500 yards coming into the game, ran for 184 yards on 22 carries, scoring three times.
Both quarterbacks also played well.
HCHS senior Jarett Ford ran for 101 yards on 15 carries, including several big runs to keep scoring drives alive. He also completed seven of 12 passes for 61 yards.
Letcher freshman Nick Sergsevenent kept the Cougars in the game when HCHS appeared to be in position to take control. Sergent completed 15 of 25 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns. Sergent played well despite good pressure from the Bears, who compiled six sacks, including five in the second half.
Harlan County moved the ball well on the opening drive as Ford completed one pass to Colby King and two to Tyrese Simmons, but Simmons fumbled on the second and Letcher took over on its own 20.
The Harlan County defense bottled up Williams in the first drive, dropping him twice for losses to force a punt, but the Cougars adjusted by moving spreading the field with multiple receivers. The change gave Williams some room and he raced 36 yards for a touchdown on Letcher’s second drive. Garry Henson blocked the extra point attempt.
A long run by Cornett put the Bears inside the Letcher 20, but the drive stalled again before Jordan Kelly salvaged three points with a 21-yard field goal.
WIlliams broke free on a 34-yard run on the Cougars’ next possession as Simmons saved the touchdown with a tackle at the 32. The HCHS defense stepped up from there and forced Letcher into a punt after a holding penalty.
A long punt return by Christian Hall put the Harlan County offense back in business on the Bears’ 46. Cornett went 54 yards on the next play for a touchdown. Kelly’s extra point gave the Bears a 10-6 lead with 42.2 seconds left in the first quarter.
Quintin Mickens saved a touchdown when caught Williams after a 42-yard run. The Cougars got to the 2 before the HCHS defense came up with another big stop, dropping Williams for losses or no gains three times.
The Bears gave the ball right back though as Tanner Lucas took it away from Devon Rodriguez on a long pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown with 5:38 left in the first half. Quade Adams’ two-point conversion put the Cougars up 14-10.
Harlan County reclaimed just before the half with the help of three big plays. Ford went 20 yards on a fourth-and-13 play, then King caught a 22-yard pass on a second-and-25 play. The Bears lined up for a field goal at the Letcher 4, but decided to go for it after a procedure penalty against the Cougars. Cornett went in from the 2 as time expired, and Kelly hit the extra point for a 17-14 halftime lead.
Much of the second half was spent exchanging touchdowns.
Cornett went 39 yards for a score with 9:14 left in the third quarter as the lead grew to 10 after Kelly’s kick. Kelly hit six extra points and a field goal in the game.
Sergent teamed with Lucas for a 60-yard TD pass with 7:15 to play in the third quarter. Damen Holbrook’s kick cut the deficit to 24-20.
Ford and Rhett Alred each had big gains on the next drive that was capped by Ford’s 2-yard touchdown run. Kelly’s kick pushed the lead to 31-20 with 2:29 left in the third quarter.
Williams answered with a 44-yard touchdown run. Sergent threw to Lucas for the two-point conversion, cutting the deficit to 31-29 with 1:52 to play in the period.
HCHS appeared ready to push its lead back to two possessions when Ford went down on the Letcher 2. Officials ruled Ford dropped the ball before touching the ground for a fumble.
Letcher drove inside the HCHS 20 before the game’s biggest defensive play as King picked off a Sergent pass in the end zone with 8:03 left.
Cornett went 48 yards for a touchdown as the lead went back to 10 points with 5:28 left.
Williams answered with a 9-yard TD run with 2:19 to play. Holbrook’s kick pulled the Cougars within three.
Cornett was there to recover the onside kick, then went 50 yards on the next play. He went in for the clinching touchdown from the 1 two plays later. Kelly’s kick with 1:11 to play closed the scoring.
Dillon Day had a sack on the Cougars’ last possession as they couldn’t pick up a first down even though officials apparently lost count of downs and gave them five plays. Day, Cole Kidwell and Keenon Napier had big plays on the HCHS defensive front, supplying pressure along with Henson at middle linebacker.
Harlan County (2-5 overall, 1-1 district) is open next week and will travel to Whitley County on Oct. 16. Letcher Central (4-3 overall, 1-1 district) will travel to North Laurel on Friday.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134