Travis Leffew is very familiar with the journey his Lincoln County Patriots will take Friday for the first round of the 5A playoffs, and he knows what to expect from Harlan County when he gets here.
Lincoln County is making its fourth trip in five years to Harlan County. The Patriots lost to Harlan County in the second round of the playoffs in 2011 and in the first round in both 2012 and 2013.
“We have to match their physical play. Any time you play Harlan County you know it’s going to be a physical game,” said Leffew. “They will get after you in the trenches. We have to come in with the mindset we are going to match their physicality. We have to execute our gameplan and play physical football.”
Leffew, a former Boyle County all-state lineman, is in his second season as head coach of the Patriots after five years as an assistant. The Patriots bring a 2-8 record into Friday’s game but have usually been competitive before letting games get away in the second half.
“We’ve faced a lot of injuries this year. We have five out for the season,” Leffew said. “We compete and play a team tough for the first half, but then we allow teams to pull in the second half.”
“I think they are a lot like us in that their record doesn’t really show what kind of team they have,” Harlan County coach Eddie Creech said. “When you play teams like Boyle County, Rockcastle County, Southwestern and North Laurel it’s tough on anybody. It ranks right up there with our schedule.”
Junior Tyler Mcaninch leads the Lincoln offense with 827 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Tra Carey has run for 395 yards and Austin Greer has 235 yards. Bryson Yaden has completed 52 of 123 passes for 662 yards, with five touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“They play hard and they play all four quarters,” Creech said. “They’ve come a hair of upsetting two really good teams.”
Harlan County (4-6), the runner up in District 8 of 5A, saw its three-game winning streak come to an end with a 46-20 loss last week at Bell County.
The Bears were limited to 84 yards on the ground in the loss, led by senior tailback Dylan Cornett with 68 yards on 21 carries. Cornett has 1,094 yards rushing on the season with 15 touchdowns.
Sophomore quarterback Jacob Branson, making only his third start, completed 16 of 29 passes for 142 yards. Sophomore receivers Tyrese Simmons and Colby King led in receptions with six and four, respectively.
“Coach Creech has done a great job with the spread attack and trying to confuse defenses,” Leffew said. “They’ve really improved through the season. They are playing good football right now.”
Linebacker Garry Henson, the only freshman in the starting lineup, was the leader on defense for HCHS last week with 14 tackles. Rhett Alred and Caleb Carmical, the other HCHS starting linebackers, added eight and seven tackles, respectively. Sophomore defensive back Quintin Mickens leads in tackles for the season with 86. Henson and Carmical are next with 66 and 61, respectively.
Bradley Laffoon leads the Lincoln County defense with 79 tackles. Former HCHS assistant coach and teacher Josh Cole, the son of former Evarts and Cawood coach Bill Cole, is in charge of the Lincoln defense.
“One of my best friends in the world, Josh Cole, coaches the defense. It will be good to see him, but I hope he’s going home with a loss,” said Creech with a laugh.
The Lincoln/HCHS winner will likely travel to defending 5A state champ Pulaski County in the second round of the playoffs, barring a massive upset Friday by Letcher Central.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134