With three straight wins against district opponents, the Harlan County Black Bears made it clear they are one the most improved football teams in eastern Kentucky, drawing notice from around the region by clinching a home playoff game.
If the Bears can find a way to extend that win streak to four by knocking off Bell County on Friday at Log Mountain, the entire state will take notice.
“It’s Bell County at Bell County on Senior Night, and they’ve only lost one time on Senior Night in 16 years,” Harlan County coach Eddie Creech said. “They will be jacked up and ready to go. They have some good leadership and are your typical Bell County team, big and physical with hard-running running backs and a stingy defense. It will be a tall task to go in there, but we’ve been into hostile environments already this season.”
The Bears became only the third Harlan County team to win at Log Mountain two years ago and the first since Cawood won there to open the 1986 season. The only other victory at Bell by a county team was also by Cawood in the first game ever played at the Bell field to open the 1984 season.
“We have a lot of respect for Harlan (County). It’s always a grudge match, no matter what their record is,” Bell County coach Wayne Mills said. “They bring out the best in us, and we bring out the best in them. It’s a good rivalry game.”
“This is what mountain football is about, the rivalries like this game,” Creech said. “People want to see this game. I love it. I think it’s healthy for both schools and it’s a great way to end the season with a rivalry game like Bell County.”
Bell County (7-2) is having a typical year for a program that has been a consistent winner since the mid 80s, but a 34-20 loss at home to Corbin two weeks ago cost the Bobcats to a district title and still stings.
“We’re disappointed we didn’t win the district title,” Mills said. “We picked a bad night not to play well. We can get back to them, and that’s our goal.”
Harlan County (4-5) is also a second seed (District 8 of 5A) and could end the season with a .500 record with a fourth straight win Friday. The Bears have impressed Mills with their play of late.
Making his second start at quarterback, sophomore Jacob Branson passed for 178 yards in the first quarter of a 46-0 win last week over visiting Perry Central
“The Branson kid has played well,” Mills said. “Their offense is pretty complex. They can run it or throw it. They are very aggressive on defense. They are a 2 seed for a reason in that district. I feel coach Creech and his staff have done a great job.”
The Bears featured a balanced attack from the receiving corps with Tyrese Simmons, Colby King, Christian Hall, Keenon Napier and Devon Rodrigues all making plays last week. Senior tailback Dylan Cornett added 119 yards on the ground as he topped the century mark for the third straight game and went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season.
“We can’t afford to turn it over like we did against Corbin and not give them the big play. They have some speed,” Mills said. “We have to keep everything in front of us and make them put together long drives. It’s hard to high school teams to do that.”
“We have to go in there and get some first downs, and if we don’t turn it over I think we have a chance to win the game,” said Creech.
Treyton Humfleet, the latest in a long line of great Bell backs, has carried the Bobcats’ ground attack this season with 1,434 yards and 28 touchdowns.
“He’s a fast little dude, but he’s not all they have,” Creech said of Humfleet. “It will definitely be a challenge. I just hope we can go down there and play sound, physical football.”
Senior quarterback Peyton Collett has completed 46 of 100 passes for 759 yards, with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Austin Asher is the leader in receptions with 18 for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Chase Woolum has 353 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134