The Middlesboro Yellow Jackets have been impressive in winning their first two games of the season by a combined 90-40 over Grant County and Pineville. The competition level goes up a bit this week as the Jackets travel to Log Mountain to take on the Bell County Bobcats.
Middlesboro has lost the last eight meetings in the series and hasn’t beaten the Bobcats since 1997. The last two years, since the series was renewed, the Jackets have held their own early only to see Bell County pull away in the second half to win 63-20 and 50-6.
Coach Randy Frazier said putting an end to that streak would be huge for his team and that being able to compete with the Bobcats is what he’s been working toward the last three years.
“It would mean everything in the world for the guys on the team if they can win this game. It would also be big for the community and our school to get that win,” he said. “Middlesboro has always had athletes and when I came here three years ago we started working in the weight room. We’ve been working for three years in the weight room, now we’re strong up front and it’s time to compete. This year this game should be competitive.”
He added that the key to beating the Bobcats is to control the line of scrimmage.
“We’ve got to control the line of scrimmage. I’ve had experience coaching with Dudley Hilton (at Bell County) and during that time the teams that beat Bell controlled the line. You can’t let them push you off the ball,” Frazier said. “(Current Bobcat coach) Wayne (Mills) coached under Dudley and took that same philosophy to Knox Central. He wants to have a big, strong team that lines up and runs it right at you. If we can control the line, then we’ll have an opportunity to be successful.”
That Bell running game is shown a lot of diversity in their opening three games. Running backs Chase Woolum, Austin Caldwell and Evan Brock have all rotated carrying the ball along with fullback Corey Swanner.
“They’ve got a good stable of backs. From what I’ve seen Chase Woolum is the tailback and when their in the I formation (Corey) Swanner is the fullback. Evan Brock has come in and run extremely hard and (Austin) Caldwell gives them a second back in the wishbone that can block or make plays in the running game,” Frazier said. “It really doesn’t matter who they give the ball to, they’re going to run it right at you. You’ve got to win at the line of scrimmage and then not get sucked in because they can throw it downfield on you with (Peyton) Collett.”
The Jackets appear to have the horses to not only keep the game close for four quarters this season, but maybe even to get that win. Just about everybody is back from last year’s team and most of them are juniors.
Running backs Seth Barton and Ryan Pittman have put on a show in the first two wins, combining for nearly 300 yards and ten touchdowns on the ground. Quarterback Major Edwards has options in the passing game with seniors Austin Poindexter and Donnie Foister outside along with junior Jake Brock to give Middlesboro plenty of balance on offense.
It’s added up to 90 points in the first two games and the Jackets had both in control by the third quarter. The Bell defense will present a stiffer test, but Frazier is confident in his team’s ability to move the ball.
“From looking at them on film they are very comparable to Corbin, which we played in the Grid. We moved the ball against Corbin and we really left some plays on the field. I feel like we can move the ball on anybody,” said Frazier. “But we can’t have negative yards because of penalties or sacks or things like that. That can cause you to be one-dimensional.
“Our guys have to understand that we’re probably not going to have all the big plays we’ve had the past two games. We had to be patient and not get frustrated.
“This one’s going to be a war. That’s what we’ve tried to prepare for this week. We’re going to face some adversity, both teams are, and we’re going to have to be able to get past that. That’s one of the reasons we played our starters quite a bit last week, we knew we needed to get them ready to go for four quarters. I didn’t see a lot of people that were very tired so I feel good about that.”
The Bobcats lost 16 seniors from last year’s team and the common perception around the region is the team is down a bit from the level they had been playing. Frazier said he doesn’t buy that argument for a second.
“My first year here we had 18 seniors. Every program goes through that from time to time. Wayne has done an outstanding job of keeping that program up. They just beat Whitley County, they beat Marion County and they had an opportunity to win in the fourth quarter against one of the best teams in Tennessee,” he said. “They haven’t done anything to show me that they’re down.”
Both teams are healthy and coming off good weeks of practice. Friday’s game should be the best the series has seen in quite a while. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.