The high school football season kicked off on Friday night and while most of the headlines for our local teams were negative, there were plenty of positives from the night’s action.
There’s no way to sugar coat the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets’ 34-0 loss to Bourbon County. But the Jackets wasted a few early opportunities and could have easily held a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter. The young MHS defensive front more than held their own in the early going and did a good job of containing All-State running back Kentayvous Hopkins for most of the first half.
Hopkins didn’t really get going until late in the half after Jacket sophomore Camre Stephney had to leave the game with a knee injury. He had just 44 yards on 13 carries until using a cutback to find open space for a 20-yard TD on a play that also had MHS defensive front leader Tyler Prater on the sideline.
Middlesboro’s pass defense also had some shining moments. Senior corner Zach Riddle nearly had an interception on the game’s first play from scrimmage: He jumped in front of his man and knocked away the pass. Later he used a big hit to jar a ball loose and force an incompletion.
Sophomore safety Seth Barton broke up one pass in the end zone in the first half and nearly broke up another in the fourth quarter. On Hopkins’ 11-yard TD catch, Barton batted the ball away before he had both feet on the ground. Now, there’s no instant replay in high school football, but there’s no way the catch would have been upheld in college or the NFL.
The Jacket running game didn’t produce a lot of four and five-yard runs to sustain drives, but it did produce several gains of 12-20 yards. Jake Brock led the team with 86 yard on just 10 carries and Parker Uhl also provided a pair of 12-yard inside runs in the second half.
Edwards’ numbers don’t look great: 3-of-11 for 11 yards and an interception. After getting burned last year, the Colonels were ready to defend the screen game so there weren’t many easy completions to be had. Edwards did make a pair of nice throws into the end zone: One was nearly caught by Austin Poindexter but it slipped off his fingertips as he hit the ground, the other could have been caught by Barton but also fell incomplete.
The complexion of the game turned on Charles Johnson’s 99-yard interception to give Bourbon a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter after the Jackets had a first down at the 2.
Even after Hopkins’ touchdown made it 13-0, Middlesboro got a long return from Ryan Pittman all the way to the Colonel nine. But the Jackets wound up turning the ball over on downs.
Middlesboro opened the third quarter with a 12-play drive that got as far as the Bourbon 15, but again the drive stalled and the Colonels used their momentum to pull away with three touchdowns in final 16 minutes.
So Jacket coach Randy Frazier was right when he said his young team just has to learn how to finish. They weren’t as far as that final score would indicate to claiming a win over a veteran team that some say have a shot to make noise in Class 3A this postseason.
The story was much the same for the Bell County Bobcats. Three times they had the ball deep in Lexington Catholic territory only to either fumble it away or end up turning it over on downs. They also gave the Knights excellent field position after an ill-fated fake punt that led to a touchdown and a 15-7 LexCath lead at the half.
The Bell County defense has to be feeling pretty good after holding the high-powered Knight offense to 280 total yards and really just two touchdown drives.
Bobcat sophomore Dylan Cox intercepted Kyle Bolin on the Knights’ first drive. After Bell lost one fumble inside the ten, they got it back and scored the game’s first points on a 13-yard run by Ryan Collett.
LexCath answered with a touchdown, but the Bobcats could have easily held a 21-8 lead at the half. Instead the Knights scored just before halftime.
The longest gain of the night came courtesy of the Bell passing game as Cox took a Corey Oslonian pass and rumbled for 58 yards. The Bobcats were in position to possibly tie the game, but turned the ball over on downs again at around the 15.
The score remained 15-8 until the Knights scored in the closing minutes to put it away.
Again, there’s no shame in losing on the road to a LexCath team that’s one of the top two or three in Class 4A. But the Bobcats know if they just took better care of the ball they could have pulled out a big win. Hopefully they can take some confidence from that into this week’s visit to 6A Bryan Station.
Another team that can take confidence from a season-opening loss is the Pineville Mountain Lions. Even though the Lions lost 42-20 to North Laurel, they played much better against the much larger school than in last year’s opener. Last season Pineville was held to negative yardage until late in the game. This year the boys from Pineville scored three touchdowns against the Jags’ first team defense.
5A North is expected to be much better than they were a year ago and if Friday’s game was any indication, there are also plenty of wins in the future for the 1A Mountain Lions.
Last but not least, a big tip of the hat to Cumberland Gap offensive lineman Preston Provins. Provins alertly recovered a fumble by quarterback Blake Franklin in the end zone for the first points in the Panthers’ 20-16 win at Wartburg Central.
Every score in that game was crucial as Franklin later scored on a pair of short runs, including one with 2:39 to play that put Cumberland Gap up 20-16.
Wesley Nance then came up with a sack and stripped the ball to end the final Wartburg possession as the Panthers started the season 1-0. They’ll look to continue that momentum on Friday at traditional rival Union County.