PINEVILLE — While the Mountain Lions are getting more familiar with post-season success, they’ll be looking to advance to a regional championship game for the first time in over 30 years as they travel to Hazard tonight for a second round playoff game.
“There’s no added pressure. These kids know it’s a tough place to play but we’ve got nothing to lose so we’re going to let it all hang out and see what happens,” said Pineville coach Bart Elam. “I think earlier this season we got a little bit too tight and they were feeling pressure to do well. But since about the middle of the season we’ve just decided to loosen up and have fun and they’ve executed better. At the end of the day it’s still a game and if you can’t have fun then there’s no use doing it.”
Tonight’s game is a rematch between Class 1A, District 6 foes. Back on Oct. 19, the Mountain Lions gave Hazard all they wanted before dropping a 28-22 decision. That was the first time Pineville played within 30 points of the Bulldogs since they were put in the same district.
That game seems to have fueled the Lions’ confidence as they followed it up with big wins over 2A Leslie County (42-12) and at Campbellsville in the first round of the playoffs (44-22).
Pineville (6-5) has had success with remarkable balance on offense. Not only between the run and the pass but also in which players get the running and receiving yards.
The team has three backs: seniors Andrew Douglas and Tanner Mike and junior Connor Ford with over 600 yards. Mike leads the way with 890 yards and nine touchdowns while Douglas has 685 yards to go along with 12 scores and Ford has another 605 rushing yards with four TDs.
Senior quarterback Jamie Roan has completed 102-of-181 passes for 1703 yards and 23 touchdowns. Senior tight end Byron Asher leads the Lion pass catchers with 34 receptions for 521 yards and six scores. Mike, Ford and Douglas are all involved in the passing game along with outside receivers Jared Philpot (17-327 and six) and Kyle Capps.
“We’ve got a lot of different play-makers that have developed during the season. We knew going in that if that happened we could be pretty dangerous,” Elam said. “We started out with Connor and Tanner at receiver then in the middle of the year we moved them and started handing them the ball along with Dougie. Philpot has stepped up as another big-play guy and when you add those to what Byron and Dougie can do it gives Jamie a lot of weapons and he’s been playing really good.”
Hazard (7-3), the defending Class A state champions, is also playing their best football down the stretch. The Bulldogs dropped three early season games to some pretty good 2A and 3A teams in Somerset, Lexington Christian and Breathitt County. Since then they’ve won their last six and only the previous game with Pineville was closer than 18 points.
Hazard’s spread attack remains one of the most dangerous in the Mountains as Evan Whitaker has completed 123-of-207 passes on the year for 2113 yards and 16 touchdowns. Jordan Olinger leads the Bulldogs with 49 catches for 757 yards and six touchdowns. Brandon Jones, Nathan Higgins and Kody Arnett have all run for at least 300 yards and combined for 13 touchdowns.
In the earlier game against Pineville it was Olinger catching eight passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s an absolute beast. Everyone knows that and our kids certainly know that. Most of those scores came on big plays from him just breaking a lot of tackles,” Elam said. “We’ve just got to wrap him up. They’ve got so many weapons that you can’t just concentrate on one of them or another will beat you. We’ve got to be sure tacklers or they’ll turn a lot of things into big plays.”
Pineville found some success running the ball against Hazard as Mike finished with 71 yards, Ford 51 and Douglas 48 and a touchdown. Against the Bulldogs, Roan hit on 16-of-31 pass attempts for 158 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Philpot.
“We ran it pretty well against them, but good teams get stiff in the red zone where’s there not a lot of room,” Elam said. “We were able to make some plays in our passing game when we got close and we’ll definitely need to do that again.”
The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. in Hazard.