The ending of Friday’s game was eerily similar to Middlesboro’s game against Clay County over a week ago. With 22 seconds left on the clock, the Yellow Jacket defense faced a two-point attempt that could send the game into overtime. The outcome was different with Middlesboro stopping Kendal Brock short of the goal line and walking away with a 14-12 victory.
The win gives the Jackets its first of the season. Middlesboro has won the last five of six games against the Green Dragons.
Middlesboro had multiple chances to seal the game on their final two drives. Across that span, the Jackets had two touchdowns called back on penalties and were stopped at the 1-yard line.
Harlan’s final drive wasn’t with it’s own issues for Middlesboro. An incomplete pass on fourth-and-11 ended with a face-mask penalty that kept the drive alive. An interception by Alex Mason was called back for a personal foul.
Another face-mask penalty turned what would have been fourth-and-6 into a first-and-goal from the Middlesboro 8. The Dragons scored on the next play to give them a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion.
“Ugly sums it up. We left a few on the board in the first half,” said Middlesboro coach Zach Massengill. “The kids continued to battle. We had many opportunities on the last drive to finish the game, and we just didn’t make plays. I think that was from expecting to lose instead of expecting to win.
“Maybe this gets us over the hump a little bit in their minds. We expected things to go bad, and they about did. We stepped up and made a play at the end when we needed to, so I’m proud of the kids.”
Corey Hairston was the shining star for the Jackets on the night. The wide receiver turned running back racked up 153 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. He received the Offensive MVP award for the Veterans Bowl.
Owen McWilliams, Michael Carroll and Isiah Williams also had impressive performances during Middlesboro’s 319-yard night on the ground. McWilliams rushed for 62 yards on 18 carries, Carroll finished with 52 yards on his five runs, and Williams ended the game with 47 yards on seven rushes.
“I thought the offensive line did a great job. Our backs have had a great offseason in the weight room. I think it’s starting to show on some of these runs,” said Massengill. “We’re running through arm tackles where a couple of years ago we didn’t. They’re just playing hard.”
“There is competition there. We have four or five backs. That helps when they know somebody else can get the job done if they’re not. We feel confident about that group. We just got to continue to work, and we got to take better care of the football.”
Sebastian Wagoner was awarded the Defensive MVP of the night. The junior linebacker flew all over the field seemingly hitting anything that moved. He finished the night with 15 tackles.
For Harlan, Kendal Brock carried most of the load on the ground. The senior running back — who was returning from injury — finished the game with 53 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Caleb Adkins followed suit with 42 yards on eight carries.
Quarterback Kilian Ledford completed two passes for 46 yards. He also tallied 31 yards and a touchdown on five carries. Ethan Clem hauled in a team-high 34 yards on his lone reception.
“(The defense) is getting better. They’re still a long ways off,” said Massengill. “Having Alex Mason back allowed us to play four secondary guys. We were able to do a few adjustments there a little better.
“Overall, we’re getting better. They’re studying the game during the week, they’re studying their film, (and) they’re taking it serious. They’re starting to recognize what’s coming at them. (We) still had some slip ups in the first half…but overall they’re getting better.”
Middlesboro opened the game with a quick touchdown drive. After taking over on the Harlan 40, the Jackets marched 40 yards in seven plays. Hairston capped the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run with 8:35 remaining in the first quarter. The Brandon Helton extra point gave Middlesboro a 7-0 lead.
The game remained silent from that point until the second half. After forcing the Dragons to punt on fourth-and-long, it took the Jackets two plays to find the end zone. An 8-yard run by Hairston helped set up a 66-yard touchdown run by the senior with 3:56 remaining in the third. Helton’s kick pushed the Middlesboro lead to 14-0.
Harlan responded with a touchdown of their own on the ensuing drive. Four plays into the drive, Adkins found the edge on a jet sweep and took the ball 17 yards down to the Jacket 40.
The Dragons nickle-and-dimed their way inside the Middlebsoro 5 before Brock capped the 13-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 9:33 remaining in the game. The Jackets blocked the PAT to maintain a 14-6 lead.
Harlan narrowed the lead to two on their final drive of the game. A 34-yard pass from Ledford to Clem helped set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Ledford with 22.2 seconds left in the game. Brock’s two-point attempt was stopped short of the goal line giving Middlesboro the two-point lead.
The Jackets recovered the onside kick and ran the clock out to earn the victory.
Middlesboro (1-3) will host Pineville (2-2) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Harlan (0-4) will continue their road schedule and travel to Magoffin County at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN