The second half of the season got underway Friday night as the Cougars of Letcher Central with a record of 1-4 and 0-1 in district play hosted the Harlan County Black Bears and Coach Tom Larkey.
The Black Bears entered the game with a record of 4-1 and 1-0 in district play. They were coming off of a 41-27 thrashing of Whitley County in their only district game. This is a team that keeps the ball on the ground and features a trio in the backfield that average 288 yards a game on the ground. Coach Larkey has brought the ground game with him that he perfected at Rockcastle County for so many years. The Black Bears also average over 40 points a game and had won four games in a row.
The Cougars are struggling and were coming off of a big loss to Perry Central last week in Hazard and had lost four in a row. This was a huge game for the Cougars and it was also the beginning of the Friends of Coal Bowl that will be held each year between the two schools.
The Cougars won the toss and elected to receive. They quickly went three and out and Harlan took over at the Cougar 25 after a great punt return. Dylan Smith scored from 5 yards out at the 7:11 mark of the first quarter and tacked on the conversion to make the score 8-0.
The Cougars could not move at all as the Black Bears were in the backfield as soon as the ball was snapped. Quarterback Logan Johnson was under extreme pressure all night as the Harlan defense got tougher as the game went along. The Cougars punted again on their second possession and the punt was short and the Black Bears got the ball at the Cougar 44- yard line. It took one play as Smith went untouched to the end zone. The conversion made it 16-0 with 4:45 left in the first quarter.
Another three and out for the Cougars, and Harlan got the ball back at the Cougar 48. The Black Bears fumbled on the first play and Koree Stewart recovered for the Cougars and the Cougars were in business, but it didn’t last long. On their first play Johnson threw an interception and the Black Bears had it back. This time they took advantage as quarterback Jordy Brewer took it up the middle from 17 yards out for the 23-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The Cougars tried to make something happen, but the Blackbear defense pushed them back all night. Facing a fourth and 30, the Cougars punted from the end zone and got a penalty on the play that resulted in a safety and a 25-0 Harlan County lead at the break. The Cougars were minus yardage at halftime.
Harlan County opened the third quarter on off ense and the Cougar defense stopped them on their first possession and forced a punt. The teams traded punts and the Cougars had one play that saw Drew Bentley carry the ball to the Harlan County 30, but it was called back on a Cougar penalty. The third quarter ended with the score staying the same, and the fourth opened with Dylan Smith scoring again for his third score on a 20- yard play to make the score 32-0.
The Cougars finally got on the board after Harlan County put in some fresh faces and called off the dogs. Harlan County fumbled and Hall picked it up and took it in from 35 yards out. The conversion from Johnson to Boggs was good and the score was 32-8.
Harlan County brought the starters back on its next possession and Smith scored again on a 51- yard play to make the score 39-8. The Cougars ran out the clock and that was the final score.
This was a rough game for the Cougars as Harlan County dominated from the opening kick. The Cougars could not mount anything on off ense against the Black Bears. Harlan County will give the Commodores of Perry Central all they want and they are my pick to the win the district. They have already beat Whitley County and Whitley beat Clay County. So the game with Perry Central will probably be for the title.
The Cougars now find themselves at 1-5 and 0-2 in the district. They must play for pride now and try to finish the remaining four games on a positive note.