After suffering the most lopsided loss in the team’s short history, the Letcher County Central Cougars have some major regrouping to do before they host rival Perry County Central at Ermine this Friday.
The Cougars traveled to Harlan County to take on the undefeated Black Bears in the Friends of Coal Bowl in what was Letcher Central’s first district contest of the 2011 football season. LCC hung tough for one quarter before falling 60-12.
Harlan County received the ball first and an all too familiar scenario occurred as the Cougars gave up a score on the first offensive play of the game. Junior running back Jake Middleton took the handoff and scampered 65 yards for the touchdown. The two-point conversion was good and Harlan County took an 8-0 lead 12 seconds into the contest.
Drew Bentley received a pitch for a 10-yard gain and a personal foul horse collar brought the ball to the Harlan County 35 yard line. Black Bear defensive back Zach Chitwood intercepted the first pass of the game from Houston Watts. On the next possession running back Marcus McMillan caught a swing pass out of the backfield and broke free for an apparent touchdown, but Keaston Hall caught him from behind and forced a fumble. The fumble went through the back of the end zone and by rule the Cougars got the ball at their own 20-yard line. The hustle play by Hall prevented the score.
Unfortunately, Chitwood intercepted Watts for a second time and returned it for a touchdown to make the score 15-0 in favor of Harlan County with 7:50 left in the first quarter. The Letcher Central offense could not move the ball and on the punt a bad snap went over the head of kicker Sidney Fields and he recovered on the Cougar 18 yard line. The LCC defense held strong and forced a field goal, which gave the Black Bears an 18-point lead.
The Cougar offense finally awoke when senior Drew Bentley took a hand off out of the power-I formation and ran 57 yards for the touchdown. The extra point was wide right and the lead had been cut to 18-6.
Letcher Central’s Koree Stewart then showed his multi dimensional skills. Defensively he had a tackle for loss and a sack on third down to force a punt. Once the Cougars regained possession, Stewart took a pass from Watts on a seam route and rumbled 60-yards for the touchdown. The last part of the first quarter belonged to the visiting Cougars and the deficit was only six going into the second quarter.
The explosive Harlan County offense caught fire and their defense, which came into the game allowing fewer than 12 points a game, showed why the Black Bears are one of the best teams in the state. Marcus McMillan scored successive touchdowns on runs of 15 and 13 yards and a close game had quickly turned into a 31-12 Harlan County advantage.
The LCC offense could not capitalize on a great return by Caleb Baker and Harlan County tacked on one more score before halftime to take a 39-12 lead into the break.
Drew Bentley looked fully recovered from an ankle injury that had plagued him all year. He had his best half of the year and gained 131 yards on nine carries including a touchdown. Defensive tackle Tony Cantu led the defense with five tackles including two for loss. Harlan County had more than 300 yards of offense in the first half and the Black Bears converted all three Cougar turnovers into touchdowns.
The Cougar offense only had nine yards of total offense in the third quarter. Harlan County used a fake punt on fourth and 27 to surprise LCC. Marcus Mc- Millan took the snap out of punt formation and ran up the middle for 42 yards to get the ball deep into Cougar territory. The trick play led to Jake Middleton’s second touchdown of the game on a one-yard plunge which made the score 46-12 in favor of the Black Bears heading into the fourth quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Watts threw a pass that was picked off by Aaron Caldwell who raced down the sideline for another touchdown. The Cougar offense had two more fumbles during the quarter which raised their turnover total for the game to six and Harlan County scored one more meaningless touchdown with under two minutes remaining to make the final score 60-12.
Despite the lopsided loss there were still some positives that Coach Mike Whitaker can hopefully instill onto his young team. Drew Bentley led the Cougar offense with 145 yards rushing on 15 carries and a touchdown. Senior Koree Stewart had his highest receiving total of his career, catching two passes for 90 yards and a 60-yard score. The defense had four sacks and played extremely hard the entire game.
Kickoff for Friday’s game against the Commodores is 7:30 p.m.