Bell County vs. Harlan County has developed into one of the most highly anticipated games in the state, and especially in the Mountains. The anticipation level is even higher this year as the Black Bears will be opening up their stat of the art Coal Miners Memorial Stadium agains the Bobcats tonight.
The game, which features a pair of district champions, will be broadcast live on WYMT television and kicks off at 7:30 p.m.
“It will be a war. It is a great football game if you are a fan. For coaches, you spend a lot of hours watching film. But, there is no pressure for either team,” said Bell County coach Wayne Mills. “We have both won a district and will be sitting at home for the playoffs. These are games that you will enjoy for a lifetime. It is a special night. I know our kids are excited, and I’m sure Harlan County’s kids have got to be ecstatic.”
“It caps off the season. The district is over with, so you have this as kind of a Super Bowl game to end the season with as you go into the playoffs,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “It will be a crazy atmosphere with a lot of people. We just have to go out there and play hard.”
Harlan County has been unable to knock off the Bobcats in its short history. The Black Bears have closed the gap in recent years, and led at the half last year before falling 25-14. A win this season would be another step in the continued progression of the program.
“It would be a big stepping stone for our program. We have to prepare and work hard. They have another super football team, but we still have to think ahead about the playoffs next week too,” Larkey said.
The Bobcats will rely on seniors Jonathon Polly and Ryan Collett in the backfield. The duo has rushed for 2,207 yards this season. Freshman Peyton Collett is now more experienced under center, after taking over for senior Corey Osolonian, who was injured early in the season.
“Peyton has done a great job for us. We are not asking him to win the ball game, he just has to manage it for us. He is a talented kid that has a great future for us,” Mills said.
Meanwhile, the Harlan County offense is powered by Jake Middleton. The senior has rushed for 1,670 yards. Junior’s Treyvon Long and Cole Wilson have also emerged as big play threats for the Bears.
While both teams are filled with playmakers, the outcome of Friday’s showdown will likely be determined along the line of scrimmage.
“In these types of games a lot of coaches will say that it will be won up front,” Mills said. “I guess whoever can open up holes will give themselves a chance to come out on top.”
“They have a good size line. They have a good weight program and like to play physical like we do. I feel like it will be a matchup on the line of scrimmage and who can win the war right there,” Larkey said. “We are relatively young on the line. Most of them have not played a whole lot of varsity football until this year. You do improve when you are out there with the big boys every day, and they have improved a lot.”
The Bell County defense hasn’t allowed a point in its last three outings, but the Bears will likely pose a more difficult challenge this week.
“We have played some teams that probably aren’t as strong as Harlan County is, but we know defense carries you down the stretch. Against good teams it gives you a chance to win,” Mills said.
Harlan County also features one of southeastern Kentucky’s top defenses. The Bears have allowed just nine points per game in the last seven weeks.
‘We have got comparable teams. I think turnovers and mistakes will play a big part in the game,” Larkey said.