There was no slow start for the New Harlan Patriots on this Saturday, unlike a week earlier, only complete domination.
New Harlan rolled into the regional finals of the Division III state playoffs with a 38-8 rout of visiting Shelby Valley on Saturday, a sharp departure from a week earlier when the Patriots found themselves in a two-point game early in the third quarter before reeling off 32 unanswered points to beat Hazard
“This bunch, they’ve grown as far as being prepared,” New Harlan coach Brett Johnson said. “They were excited to get out here and get going, and we were strong getting out of the gate, which is what we need to do. I’m proud of them.”
New Harlan (10-1) extended its win streak to 10 and earned a spot in the regional finals on Saturday at Bell County against Pikeville, a winner Saturday over Adams. The winner of the regional championship game will advance to the state final four the following weekend in Lexington.
The Patriots wasted little time taking control as seventh-grade tailback Matt Brown scored two early touchdowns on the way to a seven-carry, 123-yard game. Brown scored on a 22-yard run less than a minute into the game. Josh Turner followed with a two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
Brown raced 54 yards for a touchdown at the 7:09 mark of the second quarter, and Turner again came through with the two-point conversion as the lead grew to 16-0.
While the New Harlan offense was clicking early, the Patriots’ defense avoided the early struggles of a week earlier against the Hazard passing attack. The Patriots didn’t allow a first down through the second and third quarters. New Harlan dominated the game up front as linemen Jared Creech, Jordan Steele, Hunter Helton and Elijah Smallwood, along with linebacker Kobe Burkhart, spent much of the game in the Shelby Valley backfield.
“Our defense has been strong all year, and they stepped up again today,” Johnson said. “We turn them over, and our offense kind of feeds off that. They really stepped up today and shut down a good Shelby Valley offense.”
Smallwood and Noah Saylor had sacks to set up the third New Harlan touchdown. Quarterback Jay Harris ran 73 yards inside the Shelby Valley 10, and then Brown went the final 4 yards for a 22-0 lead with 1:25 to play in the period. Hunter Blevins helped make the touchdown possible when he recovered a fumble three plays earlier.
Harris went to the air when New Harlan got the ball back after another Smallwood sack. Smallwood, the Patriots’ tight end, also made a play on offense as he caught a pass from Harris across the middle and raced 52 yards for a touchdown and a 30-0 lead with nine seconds left before halftime.
Blevins closed the scoring for the Patriots with a 39-yard touchdown run only 50 seconds into the second half, starting a running clock. Ben Landis went in for the two-point conversion.
Following Brown’s 123-yard effort, Harris ran for 70 yards on two carries and Blevins added 60 yards on five carries
“Our offensive line is fantastic and our backs are running hard,” Johnson said. “We’re clicking offensively and doing some good things. We have kids stepping up each week. I hope we can keep capitalizing when the defense does turn them over.”
Blevins and Jacob Bailey had long runs as New Harlan marched deep into Shelby Valley territory in the fourth quarter before the drive stalled.
Shelby Valley (7-4) scored on the last play of the game as Lance Riddell went in from the 4. Isaac Hinkle added the two-point conversion.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134