The Richmond Register

November 15, 2013

H.S. FOOTBALL: Eagles ready for another shot at Harlan County

By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer

RICHMOND — The Madison Southern Eagles (9-1) are no strangers to their opponent tonight in the second round of the Class 5A football playoffs in Harlan.

In fact, they have a score to settle with the Harlan County Black Bears (8-3), the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season in the second round.

But making amends won’t come easy because Harlan County is once again a very good football team.

The Black Bears have a potent offense with the top rushing game in Class 5A, led by one of the state’s best running back tandems and a big, strong offensive line.

Fred Massey is the leading rusher for Harlan County, averaging 220 yards per game, while backfield-mate Cole Wilson is averaging 167 yards per game on the ground.

In Harlan County’s first-round win over Lincoln County last week, the duo combined for more than 450 yards on the ground as the Black Bears cruised to an easy 44-7 win.

The Black Bears can also hurt you through the air. Last week, quarterback Scotty Bailey was 8-of-9 passing for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Cole Wilson is Bailey’s favorite target, but three other receivers are averaging three or more catches per week as well.

Southern coach Jon Clark said he’s confident his team is better prepared for the Black Bears this season than they were last year.

“This is a game that could go either way, but I absolutely think we are up to the challenge. We are playing good enough ball right now and we are not one-dimensional like we were last year. They are pretty one-dimensional, so if we can slow that down, I like our chances,” Clark said. “Last year we hoped we could play with them. This year we know we can.”

Clark said for the Eagles to come away with a win, they will definitely have to contain the running game at the point of attack, which he thinks the Eagles can do.

“They are big up front so we’ve got to get off the blocks and the first guy that makes the contact has got to hang on and bring them to the ground. That’s where our swarming defense is going to come in handy,” Clark said. “They are No. 1 in the state in rush yards, but we’re fifth in the state in rush defense, so I feel pretty good that we are up to the challenge.”

The Black Bears are no slouch on defense either, giving up only 171 points on the year, 45 of which came in a loss to Greenville Tenn., one of the top teams in the state.

Harlan County is very strong against the run, allowing only 87 yards a game, and in three games this season, including against Madison Central, the Black Bears have held the opposing team to negative yardage for the game.

In their eight wins, they have allowed only 31 yards per game rushing. In their three losses, they have given up 201 yards per game on the ground.

Clark said he doesn’t expect any special wrinkles out of the defense to try to stop standout running back Damien Harris.

“They are not going to do anything different for him. They are going to do what they do. I think going into the game they are going to try to out-physical us. They are going to hit us hard and they are going to try to cut us up front,” Clark said. “On the D-line they are going to cut our O-linemen to keep us from getting to the linebackers. We faced that against Rockcastle, North Laurel and Whitley County. We’ll be fine.”

Clark said another big key to the game will be ball security, especially on special teams, something the Eagles have done a great job of since their loss to Pulaski County three weeks ago.

“We can’t turn the ball over. We haven’t had a turnover in the last three games. Championship teams don’t turn the ball over to the other team and we’re doing a good job with that right now,” Clark said. “They like to do some short kicks and risk the recovery, so we have to make sure that we handle the football. We’ve also got to be solid in our punt protection and punt return stuff. I feel good about where we are and think we will do that.”

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in Harlan.