HAZARD – The path through the 5A playoffs will run through the deep, dark hills of eastern Kentucky. The Harlan County Black Bears wrapped up home field advantage throughout the postseason, and their third straight district championship with a 55-20 victory at Perry Central on Friday.
“Not many teams win three in a row. I’m real proud of our program, our coaches and our fans,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “We have sealed the bid for some home playoff games, and we have to see what we can do from here on out.”
Harlan County was nearly unstoppable on the ground, with 55 rushes for 524 yards. Senior Jake Middleton led the way with 182 yards on 20 carries. Quarterback Scotty Bailey added 122 yards on four carries.
“I didn’t think we would have any trouble moving the ball. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot. Penalties were the only thing that stopped us really,” Larkey said.
Harlan County opened the game in impressive fashion. Middleton carried the ball three straight times for 61 yards, before Carson Whitehead capped the drive with a four yard touchdown run. Middleton ran in the two-point conversion to make it 8-0.
Perry answered with its most impressive drive of night on the ensuing possession. The Commodores put together a 12-play drive that covered 87 yards. Austin Pray connected with Tyler Fugate on a 24-yard touchdown to close the drive. The extra point closed the gap to 8-7.
It didn’t take the Bears long to respond, as junior Treyvon Long returned the following kickoff 95-yards for a score. The kick failed and Harlan County led 14-7.
Pray broke free for an 85-yard touchdown run on the first play of the Commodores’ next possession. The extra point tied the game at 14.
Harlan County took over from that point, and closed the half with a pair of scores.
Cole Wilson put the Bears back up with a 16-yard touchdown run with 9;42 left in the second quarter. Middleton’s two-point run made it 22-14.
Bailey closed the first-half scoring with a 36-yard quarterback keeper. Middleton’s two-point conversion pushed the lead to 30-14.
Perry Central closed the gap on the opening kickoff of the second half, as Darryl Beatty returned the kick 75-yards for the score. The two-point pass failed and the Bears led 30-20.
The Commodores were unable to get any closer as Harlan County closed the game with 25 straight points. Whitehead scored a pair of touchdowns on runs of 21-yards and 5-yards respectively. Long scored the final touchdown on a 15-yard run with 9:45 remaining in the fourth quarter. Wilson added the extra point.
After giving up 231 yards of total offense in the first half, the Harlan County defense tightened up in the second limiting Perry Central to just 40.
“The defense took over in the second half and wore them down. We mixed in some fresh legs,” Larkey said.
Harlan County (7-2 overall, 3-0 district) returns home next week to face Bell County in the regular season finale. Perry Central (4-5 overall, 1-2 district).