Coming off back-to-back seven-point wins on the road, the Bell County Bobcats return home on Friday to play Middlesboro.
The Bobcats have dominated the local rivalry recently with eight straight wins in the series. Bell has pulled away in each of the last two meetings, winning 63-20 in 2011 and 50-6 last year. Coach Wayne Mills says he can’t see this year’s game getting out of hand like that.
“I think it’s going to be a great football game. Middlesboro has a seasoned team with all of those sophomores and juniors from last year back. On film they’re very impressive and very athletic,” he said. “You can never go into a game thinking that you’re going to blow somebody out. Middlesboro is just too good, I can’t see that happening this year. I think it’s going to be a nail-biter and the team that can limit their mistakes and penalties is going to win.”
While Bell County is reloading after losing 16 seniors from last year’s team, the Yellow Jackets return just about their entire roster. Middlesboro’s offense had been impressive in their first two games, a 48-20 win over Grant County and a 42-20 win over Pineville.
“(Ryan) Pittman and (Seth) Barton have done a great job running the ball, Major Edwards is playing well at quarterback. Up front they’ve got (Tyler) Prater and (Hunter) Collett and those guys that give them a lot of size,” Mills said. “They’ve got a lot of potential. It’s a good game to get us ready for Wayne County and our district in a couple of weeks.”
Bell comes in with a 2-1 record. They lost their opener to Tennessee power South Pittsburg (35-20), but made enough plays to pull out road wins over 4A Marion County (17-10) and 5A Whitley County (21-14).
The Bobcats have been able to make the stops they’ve needed on defense while using a variety of running backs to get the job done on offense.
So far a different back has led Bell in rushing each game. They haven’t had a 100-yard runner, but have got 60-plus yards from three different players each game. In the opener is was sophomore Chase Woolum finding the end zone twice to keep the Bobcats in the game. At Marion County junior Evan Brock made a big catch and reeled off a few nice runs. Sophomore fullback Corey Swanner had broken 50-yard runs in each of the last two games and junior Austin Caldwell led the team by scoring the go-ahead touchdown against Whitley County.
“Like I said before the season, we may not have a 1,000-yard rusher but we’ve got several kids that might finish with 600 or 700 yards by the end of the season,” Mills said. “So far we haven’t really had that one guy to run for 100 yards in a game, but we’ve seen a lot of guys get 60 or 70 and I think it makes us that much better. We’ve got a lot of hard-nosed backs and that’s a luxury for us right now.”
Sophomore quarterback Peyton Collett found his groove with senior receiver Ben Collett in Friday’s win as they hooked up three times for 92 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown.
Mills said that the key for his team against Middlesboro will be to stay focused on getting better and to play their assignments.
“We’ve just got to worry about ourselves, be focused and know our assignments. I don’t doubt that both teams will be ready to play,” he said. “We’re just trying to get better every week. I’m glad to be playing this Middlesboro team, they’ll help us do that.”
The Bobcats should get a boost from the return of junior tight end/outside linebacker Dylan Cox. He’ll make his season debut on Friday after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the spring.
“He’s been practicing off and on the past couple of weeks and he’s ran quite a bit. I feel like he’s ready to jump right in there and I look forward to having him back,” Mills said. “He brings a lot to the table and it also just adds to our depth on the offensive side of the ball. We’ve been wearing Devon Miller out playing tight end and defensive tackle and now we’ll be able to rest him some. Having that extra depth is going to make us better.”
Friday’s game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Log Mountain.