In the midst of celebrating their first district championship since 1999, the Harlan Green Dragons are learning about some of the perks of finishing first.
Harlan (8-2) will be at home for the first three rounds of the Class A playoffs, assuming the Dragons continue winning, and they open against Jenkins, the fourth-place team in District 8, on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
The Dragons will be a big favorite against the Cavaliers, who bring a 1-9 record into the game. Jenkins opened the seasons with five straight losses, scoring only three touchdowns through that stretch. After beating Phelps 42-20, the Cavaliers went on a four-game losing streak to close the regular season.
As the favorite, the Dragons must guard against overconfidence, a point driven home this week by Harlan coach J.B. Donahue.
“They have nothing to lose, so we have to be focused and sharp,” Donahue said. “We have to be on our game, or we could suffer a major upset. I think it comes down us playing our game and do what we do.”
Despite their struggles, the Cavaliers have found some success with their passing game out of what Donahue described as a “shotgun, pistol style offense.”
Jenkins junior quarterback Darian Slone has completed 51 of 102 passes for 820 yards and seven touchdowns. Austin Fields has 20 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns. Nate Bates and Audie Fields have added 11 and 10 receptions, respectively.
“They have a kid who throws the ball pretty well. He’s among the top passers in Class A,” Donahue said. “They also have a runner who is running for about 100 yards a game. They are a little unconventional on offense. It will be a challenge for us to stop the passing game.”
Audie Fields has carried the Cavs’ ground attack with 801 yards on 157 carries through nine games, with three touchdowns.
The Jenkins defense is led by Austin Fields with 65 tackles. John Holyfield and Brady Addington are next with 49 and 42 tackles, respectively.
As usual, Harlan has featured a ground-oriented attack led by Nick Jarvis (984 yards) and Kendal Brock (849 yards), who could both break the 1,000-yard mark this week.
Junior quarterback Tanner Parks has been effective when the Dragons have needed a passing attack, completing 33 of 66 attempts for 708 yards, with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Freshman defensive back Kilian Ledford continues to lead in tackles with 62, followed by junior lineman Thomas Morgan with 57 and sophomore linebacker Holden Williams with 50.
Going in as a No. 1 seed for the first time in 16 years, Donahue and the Dragons like their chances at making a run at the first regional title in school history.
“I think these kids have grown up a little during the year and understand it’s winner go home,” Donahue said. “This was a good district and it was an achievement to win this district. These seniors have done a great job and been leaders for this team.”
The winner of the Jenkins-Harlan game will play the winner of the Pineville/Hazard game in the regional semifinals next week.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134