The Middlesboro Yellow Jackets visit Pineville on Friday for the Laurel Bowl. It’s the home opener for the Mountain Lions and the first chance for a lot of MHS fans to see their team close to home under first-year coach Zach Massengill.
Pineville (1-0) is coming off a 28-0 win at South Floyd last week. The Lions were able to effectively mix the run and the pass on offense while getting a shutout from the defense.
Middlesboro (0-0-1) had an open date last week after seeing their season opener at Grant County called due to lightning with the score tied at 7 late in the second quarter.
“We had a good open week last week, we went Monday through Thursday and just had a really good week of practice. We ended it on Thursday night down at Bradner and got after it a little a bit, had a pretty good atmosphere just with our team,” Massengill said. “This week we’re focusing mainly on Pineville and getting ready for Bart’s squad.”
In last year’s meeting in Middlesboro, the Jackets jumped out to a quick lead but the Lions never folded their tents and matched Middlesboro score for score from the second quarter on. Pineville coach Bart Elam said that 42-20 loss will have no bearing at all on this year’s game.
“We got down about 20-0 in five minutes and I think we ended up outscoring the rest of the way. But that’s last year, this is two totally different teams,” he said. “We’ve got some back, they’ve got some back but when you lose kids it changes the make-up of your team. They’ve got a new coaching staff, obviously, and they’re doing some different things.”
On paper Middlesboro is again the favorite. Not only do they have an advantage in numbers, they boast a roster with 16 seniors compared to just two for the Lions. The Jackets feature the 1-2 rushing punch of senior backs Ryan Pittman and Seth Barton. Quarterbacks Major Edwards and Tyler Yoakum are also both threats on the ground and have a big play man outside in senior receiver Jake Brock.
Pineville has an impressive group of young skill position players. Sophomore quarterback Tucker Woolum, sophomore receiver Will Adams return as starters along with junior power backs Bradley Fuson and Robbie Miller. The Lions also have a pair of talented freshmen in receiver Nike Mason and back Jordan Wombles who both scored touchdowns last week.
The biggest advantage for the Jackets is in the trenches where they line up five seniors on the offensive line and three seniors and a junior on the defensive front. Pineville graduated all of their starters on both lines from last year and now have several sophomores that play a lot along both lines.
“The typical person would say that they’ve got an advantage because they’re more mature up front. But that’s why they play the games. We’ve just got to take care of ourselves and if we do that we’re a pretty good football team,” Elam said. “If they beat us with us playing the best game we can play then we’ll take it ten times out of ten. But I really feel like if we come out and play a good game then our kids will be just fine.”
“I think they’re skill kids are really talented. We’re hoping our advantage lies along the offensive line,” Massengill added. “Now their line does a good job with what Bart’s trying to run, especially offensively. They do some nice things — running off-tackle, running the option, running their power package — he’s got a nice set of kids there right now.”
Elam says for his team to have a chance they’ve got to limit the Jackets’ big plays.
“With Middlesboro they’ve got the Pittman kid and the Barton kid so you’ve got to stop the big play. We did pretty well as far as stopping the run and stopping the pass the majority of the time last year, but they would hit us with the big play,” he said. “Over the last 20 years Middlesboro has been good at getting those big plays when they need them, but we’ve got to make them earn every point they get. Then we’ve got to come in and hit a big play or two on them throughout the game. Momentum is huge in this sport and if we can get it to our advantage then we can hang right in there.”
Massengill said that his team doesn’t have any major changes planned to their offense after only scoring seven points in that abbreviated opener.
“The key for us moving forward, not just this game but all season, is taking care of the football and making good decisions offensively,” he said. “We’re getting better every practice with our blocking schemes and getting where we need to be there. Defensively, it’s just getting to the football and knowing our assignments. I think if we get good in those areas we’ll be a pretty good football team.”
Elam said that it’s important for his team to treat Friday’s game like any other.
“Our kids have to come out and treat it like any other game,” he said. “I think one key for us is to not get too overly hyped because it’s Middlesboro. We just have to settle down and play our football game and try to do that early and often.”
Friday’s game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. in Pineville.