New Harlan’s season-long pattern of slow starts and strong finishes continued Saturday in the first round of the state playoffs.
Clinging to a two-point lead early in the third quarter, the Patriots reeled off 32 unanswered points and turned a close game into a rout with a 64-30 victory over visiting Hazard. New Harlan (9-1) will advance to the Region 4 semifinals against Shelby Valley, a winner over Louisa on Saturday
As the top seed, the Patriots may have expected an easy time against the eighth-seeded Bulldogs, but quarterback Jacob Johnson and a talented group of receivers had other ideas. Hazard scored on its first three possessions and gave New Harlan big problems with a passing attack that was better than the Patriots had seen all season.
“Hazard is a good team and did some good things,” New Harlan coach Brett Johnson said. “We finally adjusted to it and did a real good job the second half, holding them to one touchdown.”
While New Harlan struggled early on defense, the Patriots had no problems on offense with six touchdowns in nine possessions. Matt Brown ran for 108 yards on five carries and Josh Turner added 77 yards on six carries. Each of the two seventh-grade running backs scored two touchdowns. Eighth-grade quarterback Jay Harris added 55 yards on two carries with a touchdown. Hunter Blevins had a touchdown and three two-point conversions.
“Our offensive line blocked well and our backs ran hard,” Johnson said. “We were able to move the chains. Our offense has come a long way.”
The defense, after struggling early, was very good late. New Harlan returned two interceptions for touchdowns and another led to a touchdown as the final 26 points were scored of set up by the defense.
Reese Fletcher got Hazard off to a good start when he returned the opening kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown. Brittany Miniard missed the extra point attempt.
New Harlan needed only six plays to answer as Brown and Turner each picked up first downs. Turner fumbled in the end zone and lineman Jared Creech recovered for the touchdown. Blevins went in for the two-point conversion and an 8-6 lead with 5:37 to play in the opening quarter.
Hazard followed with a six-play drive. Johnson teamed with Logan Hall for a 25-yard touchdown. Fletcher went in for the two-point conversion to put the Bulldogs up 14-8.
Hunter Helton recovered Hazard’s onside kick and the seventh-grade lineman worked his way through several Bulldogs for a 50-yard return to the Hazard 5. Turner scored three plays later on a 1-yard run. Brown’s two-point conversion put the Patriots up 16-14.
Hazard moved down the field again as Fletcher had a catch for 14 yards on a third-and-13 play and another for 26 yards to the New Harlan 1. Johnson went the final yard for a touchdown and then found Cameron Brown for the two-point conversion as the Dogs led 20-16 with 7:29 left in the first half.
A 24-yard run by Brown was followed by a 41-yard touchdown run from Turner as New Harlan pulled even and then went ahead on Turner’s two-point conversion.
The New Harlan defense finally came up with a stop on the next possession as Ben Landis made a tackle for a 1-yard loss on first down and Helton had a sack on third down.
Hazard also had a stop as the Patriots took a 22-20 lead into the break.
A 65-yard touchdown run by Brown on the first play of the second half was wiped out by a penalty, but a 60-yard run by Harris on the next play counted. Turner’s two-point conversion put the Patriots up by 10.
Another big play by Johnson, a 44-yard pass to Fletcher, helped the Bulldogs answer. Cameron Brown had a catch on the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to two.
It was all New Harlan from there.
A 56-yard touchdown run by Brown, followed by Blevins’ two-point conversion, pushed the Patriots’ lead to 10 with 6:12 left in the third quarter.
Hazard appeared ready to answer, driving to the New Harlan 10 before seventh-grade linebacker Kobe Burkhart stepped in front of a Johnson pass and returned it 97 yards for a back-breaking touchdown. Turner’s two-point conversion pushed the lead to 48-30 with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
A Harris interception set up another New Harlan touchdown. Blevins had three straight carries to cover 10 yards, scoring on a 4-yard burst up the middle. Turner’s two-point conversion made the score 56-30 with 7:02 left in the game.
The New Harlan defense came up with another big play when Brown picked off a pass and took it back 65 yards for a touchdown with 4:02 left. The two-point conversion run failed.
Helton and Turner closed the scoring by tackling a Hazard ball carrier in the end zone for a safety with 2:40 left in the game.
New Harlan (9-1) will play host to Shelby Valley on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Adams 38, Evarts 26
Evarts fell in the opening round of the state playoffs on Saturday in Prestonsburg.
The Wildcats fell behind early, running only one play in the first quarter due to turnovers and onside kicks, and could never recover.
Evarts fought back after the slow start as Christian Boggs returned a kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Nick Helton added a 10-yard touchdown run later in the first half.
Dylan Burkhart, who saw action at quarterback, scored on a 25-yard scramble late in the the third quarter.
Evarts (7-3) scored again in the fourth quarter after James Chasteen intercepted a pass. Jordan Howard capped a 60-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. He also added the two-point conversion.
Adams will play Pikeville on Saturday in the Region 4 semifinals.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134