Both the Harlan Green Dragons and Harlan County Black Bears will be playing at home when the state football playoffs begin on Nov. 6.
Impressive wins on the road Friday by both teams clinched the home games as Harlan routed Lynn Camp 62-28 and Harlan County won a 50-43 slugfest at Whitley County.
Barring a big upset of Williamsburg by Lynn Camp, Harlan has locked up its first district title since 1999 and fourth in school history. The 7-1 Dragons can end any uncertainty with a win Friday at Pineville to clinch the title and complete an unbeaten district slate.
The only way I can see Harlan losing is if the Dragons fall at Pineville and Lynn Camp upsets Williamsburg. This would lead to a two-way tie that Pineville would win due to the head-to-head victory over Harlan.
If Harlan loses at Pineville and Williamsburg defeats Lynn Camp, there would be a three-way tie for first involving Harlan, Williamsburg and Pineville. The tie-breaker system used by the KHSAA allows each team involved in the tie to total the victories for four defeated opponents, adding a fifth or more if necessary to break the tie.
Harlan has the lead in this system with 10 points — Lynn Camp (4), Bracken County (3), South Floyd (2) and either Thomas Walker, Va., (1) or Jackson County (1).
Pineville has eight points with wins over Lynn Camp (4), McCreary Central (2), Jackson County (1) and Middlesboro (1).
Williamsburg has five points with a win over Ludlow (5).
The Jackets still have a non-district game against Middlesboro that is worth only one point. Pineville has a non-district game the last week against Jenkins, which is also worth only one point. Harlan has a non-district game the last week against McCreary Central for two points. This would go up by one point for each if Middlesboro, Jenkins or McCreary Central win this Friday.
All wins by those teams through next Friday could change the final total, but as long as Harlan can beat McCreary Central on Oct. 30 it’s unlikely Pineville could catch them.
As for Harlan County, the Bears appear to have second place locked up in District 8 of 5A. They could still tie the winner of Friday’s Letcher Central-Whitley County game if they lose Friday to Perry Central but would win a head-to-head tie-breaker over either team.
Harlan County will play the winner of Friday’s Lincoln County at South Laurel game in the first round. Harlan will likely play former district rival Jenkins in the first round and then would probably have a matchup at home against Hazard in the semifinals. If the Bears win in the first round, they would probably travel to defending state champ Pulaski County in the regional semifinals.
A lot of local football fans probably have had Friday’s Perry Central at Harlan County game circled on their calendar since Larkey took the job at Perry Central after seven years at HCHS.
Larkey and defensive coordinator Ovie Canady deserve a big welcome from the Harlan County fans on Friday for what they did to build the the Black Bears into a state contender.
The Harlan County program certainly appears to be in good hands with Eddie Creech in charge. Creech and his staff have the Bears headed back in the right direction and have surprised just about everyone by already topping last year’s win total while securing a second place finish in District 8 and a home playoff game.
Still, Larkey and Canady deserve a lot of credit for directing what was likely the best start for any high school program in eastern Kentucky history. Harlan County won four district titles and two regional championships in the first six years of the school’s existence. That success helped fuel the renewed passion for football in our county.