When queried about the matchup, Donahue initially provided the politically correct answer for an underdog facing a perennial mountain powerhouse that they've lost to five times in five postseason meetings.
"We're just tickled to death to have won a first-round playoff game and be going over there to play," he said. "Like I've said for years, the road to Louisville in Class A football goes through Pikeville."
The veteran Harlan coach believes deep down that there is something different about this year's Dragons, a senior-dominated squad that brings a 9-2 record into Friday's 7:30 p.m. showdown that matches the preseason No. 1 and No. 3 teams in Region 4 of Class A.
"I feel this group of kids has a little different attitude," Donahue said. "I think they are not going to be intimidated or awestruck by Pikeville. They are every bit as good a football team as Pikeville. We just have to go out and prove that and execute on Friday.
"Not to take anything away from Pikeville, but with what they've done the last two decades, they kind of have people beaten when they come over there and walk on the field. I expect our kids to have a different attitude."
Both coaches involved in Friday's game expect a low-scoring game due to the defensive prowess on both sides.
Harlan gave up just over six points a game through the regular season before struggling at times last week in a 50-26 win over Paintsville to open the playoffs.
"I know Friday we'll be in a four-quarter battle with Harlan because they are a physical football team," Pikeville coach Chris McNamee said. "They have a tremendous defense, and our defense has been solid.
"I think we're similar on offense, too, as far as pass and run percentage. We're a running team and throw when we have to."
The Panthers breezed through their district unbeaten after a brutal non-district schedule that McNamee says helped prepare them for the playoffs.
"I felt like our schedule is a little tougher than most Class A teams. Our district was a little down this year, and we felt we needed to play some good competition to see where we were," McNamee said.
"Against Prestonsburg, Belfry and Rockcastle County, we saw a lot of good things we were doing and things we needed to improve on."
Pikeville (9-2) features a balanced offensive attack with junior tailback Weston Robinson and senior fullback Robert Shurtleff with around 1,200 yards each on the ground. Junior quarterback Chase Huffman has passed for approximately 600 yards with senior wide receiver Jesse Parrish serving as his favorite target.
Harlan counters with junior tailback Teddy Thompson, who has rushed for over 1,600 yards, and senior Andrew Grieshop, who has just under 700 yards on the ground.
"From a defensive standpoint, we have to contain Thompson," McNamee said. "He's a heck of a back with good speed and power. He has good vision and is able to cut back across the field. Grieshop is also a big, physical runner. We have to try and slow them down and not give up big plays."
Josh Sullivan (6-3, 220), a standout senior end, anchors the Pikeville defense along with senior linebackers Brett Gibson (6-3, 210) and Shurtleff (6-1, 210).
"They are as solid defensively as anybody we've seen all year long," Donahue said. "They are very well-disciplined and fundamentally sound on defense. They always have somebody there to make the play. It will be a big challenge for us.
"I think it will be a heck of a defensive matchup. Our defense has been strong all year, and we expect another big defensive effort Friday night."
Harlan had one of its best offensive performances last week, moving the ball consistently on the ground against Paintsville. Donahue knows the Dragons need an even better performance Friday.
"I think it will be crucial for our offense to put some points on the board," Donahue said. "We have to block well because they are very good up front, their front eight in particular. We have to create some running lanes for Teddy and Andrew and those guys."
Lynn Camp travels to Williamsburg in the other Region 4 semifinal with the two winners to meet next Friday for the championship.