The Letcher Central Cougars record fell to 1-6 after losing to district rival Harlan County 49-0 in the Friends of Coal Bowl. The defense played an excellent first half but was worn down by the second stanza after numerous three and outs by the LCC offense.
Harlan County received the ball to begin the game. Facing 3rd and 15 from midfield, Harlan quarterback Austin Maggard dropped back to pass and was sacked by LCC safety Stephen Fox who came untouched on a blitz. The Cougars started their first offensive possession at their own 20-yard line after the punt.
The Letcher Central offense began the game running plays out of the Wing T formation. They had not used the formation all year so obviously the coaches put it in during the bye week to try and catch the Black Bears by surprise. After two runs for two yards LCC was forced to punt after quarterback Zane Blair was sacked on third down. Harlan County had a nice punt return to the LCC 34- yard line. Two plays later Black Bear running back Cole Wilson took a toss sweep around the right side for a 20-yard touchdown. The extra point was wide right, but Harlan County had taken the lead 6-0 midway through the first quarter.
Letcher Central’s Chris Tyree took the kickoff and broke four tackles down the right sideline on his way to a 61-yard return deep into Harlan County territory. Tyree followed up the big return with a 22-yard run up the middle to give the Cougars first and goal from the eight-yard line. Then on a questionable play call LCC ran a play action pass and Blair was pressured and slightly under threw a pass to the end zone that was intercepted for a touchback.
Harlan County running back Jake Middleton busted a 47-yard run on the first play of the possession and then Maggard found receiver Scotty Bailey on a streak route for a 30-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion pass was broken up by Tyree to keep the score at 12-0 with 2:04 left in the first quarter. The Black Bears tried an onside kick that LCC recovered and a person foul penalty on Harlan moved the ball to their 43- yard line. Blair found running back Hunter Hall on a seven-yard screen pass to end the first quarter.
The Cougars faced a 4th and 32 after consecutive sacks by Harlan County and out of punt formation unexplainably tried a fake punt that went nowhere and the Black Bears took over in LCC territory. On first down Cougar defensive lineman Nick Mullins caused a fumble in the backfield. An LCC defender almost scooped it up and went in for a score but he could never quite get a handle on the ball and eventually Harlan County recovered to make it 2nd and 32. Facing 3rd and long Maggard completed a pass short of the line to gain but a costly LCC face mask penalty gave the Black Bears an automatic first down. Nick Mullins sacked the quarterback to create another third and long situation. The Black Bears ran a draw play that surprised LCC and Middleton took it in 23 yards for the touchdown. The extra point was no good but Harlan County’s lead had grown to 18-0.
On the next possession Blair found receiver Josh Boggs on a beautifully run throwback screen for a 28- yard gain. A late hit took the ball to the Harlan County 27-yard line. Unfortunately a bad shotgun snap lost 16 yards on the next play and then another sack forced LCC to punt once again. Harlan County started at its own eight-yard line and methodically moved the ball into LCC territory. On 2nd down Cougar lineman Willie Smith sacked Maggard who got hurt on the play and never returned to the game. Scotty Bailey came in to play quarterback and fumbled the snap that Hunter Hall recovered to send the Cougars into halftime trailing 18-0.
The LCC defense played a stellar first half and were led by safety Stephen Fox’s nine tackles and sack. Mullins had a sack, forced fumble and tackle for loss. Keith Boggs had five tackles from his linebacker position. The offense was its own worst enemy and simply couldn’t give Zane Blair enough time to get off passes before being sacked. Blair completed five passes on six attempts for 38 yards in the half. Tyree carried the ball five times for 26 yards but the lack of ball control and the amount of time the defense was on the field became a factor in the second half.
Letcher Central received the second half kickoff and started possession at its own 22 yard line. The Cougars reverted back to their spread offense but the results were much the same as they had a three and out. Zane Blair punted a booming 50-yard punt with no return to pin Harlan County deep in its own territory. On first down Jake Middleton took a pitch around the left side for a 56-yard gain. The next plain Middleton ran up the middle for a 21-yard touchdown. Middleton walked in on the two-point conversion to increase the lead to 26-0 with 9:30 left in the third quarter.
Josh Boggs had an excellent 29-yard kickoff return to get the ball to the LCC 39- yard line. The LCC offense was forced to punt again. The Cougar defense held strong on the subsequent possession and forced the first Harlan County punt of the game. Letcher Central started the possession from its own 10-yard line. After a delay of game penalty, the Cougars tried a play action pass but before Blair could even turn around he was sacked for a safety to make it 28-0.
Middleton scored from 50 yards out on their next offensive play and the twopoint conversion gave the Black Bears a 36-0 lead.
Blair started using his legs to create plays for the Cougar offense. Blair had runs of 15, nine and eight yards to get into Harlan County territory. Penalties and sacks derailed the drive once again and the Black Bears took over possession on downs.
On Harlan County’s first offensive play Middleton ran for a 56-yard touchdown his fourth of the game to make it 42-0.
The Cougars offense went three and out again and Harlan County capitalized with a 76-yard touchdown run by Kainer Caudill. The extra point was good to make it 49-0 at the end of the third quarter.
No points were scored the rest of the game and the visiting Harlan County Black Bears won by a score of 49-0.
The Cougars must regroup before heading to Perry Central this week in what is considered a winnable game. The defense played respectably and was led by Stephen Fox who ended the game with 13 tackles and a sack. Nick Mullins had two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Keith Boggs and Chris Tyree each had seven tackles apiece.
The offense looked out of sync the entire game and one has to wonder what happened to the high powered offense that gained almost 700 yards against Franklin County. At the time they were running no huddle and keeping the defense on its heels, but the last few games they have gone to a slow down rushing attack that simply hasn’t worked.
Playmaker Keaston Hall only touched the ball once the entire game. He also caught one pass for 17 yards. Zane Blair was sacked more than 10 times and a no huddle attack should help wear down the defensive line so they can’t rush as well. Josh Boggs caught one pass for 28 yards and Houston Watts caught two passes for 19 yards.
The Cougars face Perry Central in their second district contest of the year. The game is a must-win and will be played in Hazard at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.