HCHS rallies, moves into region finals
LONDON — It’s become clear through 12 games that the 2017 Harlan County Black Bears aren”t comfortable without some adversity. They’ve made a habit of overcoming it all season, including Friday in a 28-21 win at North Laurel that sent them to the Class 5A Region 4 finals for the first time since 2012 and the fourth time in the 10-year history of the school.
Harlan County (7-5) battled through a 1-4 start to earn a share of the District 8 title by winning four of their final five games in the regular season.
In order to make it to the regional finals, the Bears had to win last week on the road against defending state runner-up Pulaski County and they rolled to a 40-0 win.
It wasn’t nearly as easy for the Bears in the second round as they overcame deficits of 14-0 and 21-14 by scoring the last two touchdowns and then held on a goal-line stand at teir 9-yard line with just over a minute left. The win came after an emotional week following the death of James Potter, a former player who was a junior at Harlan County High School.
“That’s who we’ve been. These kids are just absolutely resilient,” Harlan County coach Eddie Creech said. “To have the week they’ve had, then to get down two scores on the road against a team that’s 9-2 and for us to come back and get the win speaks volumes about the young men we have at Harlan County.”
“I thought our kids played their hearts out tonight. We had some kids that got injured early on and they couldn’t come back in the game. I think that really hurt us,” North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said. “We were trying to replace guys you don’t have to worry about replacing.”
Junior quarterback Colby Cochran proved to be the difference with several big gains off the option, running for 105 yards on five carries, all in the second half when he set up both HCHS touchdowns with long runs.
“He made some excellent runs. We hadn’t run a lot of the counter trey the last few games, but I was afraid we were going to get stagnant and I told him to read the back side and wait for the trips,” Creech said. “I’m sitting there watching and though Q (Quinten Mickens) had the ball, then there goes Cochran. He made some big plays, especially with his legs the second half.”
“He made some big plays. I guess we didn’t expect him to run it. He hadn’t all year. He’s a good football player,” Larkey said.
Everything that could go wrong for the Bears did in the opening quarter as North built a 14-point lead less than nine minutes into the game.
Two HCHS penalties kept alive North’s opening drive, which ended when Jose Rodriguez broke fee for a 36-yard touchdown run. Matt Brooks hit the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 7:43 left in the first quarter.
A high snap sailed over punter Tyler Casolari’s head for a 26-yard loss to the Harlan County 21 to set up the next score, a 6-yard run by Matt Sizemore.
Harlan County began to fight back when Tyrese Simmons went over two North Laurel defenders for a 38-yard reception on a fourth-and-19 play on the second play of the second quarter. Garry Henson went in from the 1 two plays later for a touchdown. Marcus Kelly’s extra point cut the Jaguars’ lead in half.
Another Harlan County receiver made a big play to tie the game as he went over a North Laurel defender for a catch near midfield, then broke loose for a 62-yard touchdown. Kelly’s extra point tied the game with 5:34 left in the first half.
Sizemore and Rodrigues drove the Jaguars into HCHS territory before a sack by senior lineman Jacob Ward helped end the threat and preserve the tie. Rodriguez apparently suffered a concussion during the series and did not return to the game, leaving the bulk of the carries to Sizemore, who broke looks up the middle for a 47-yard touchdown on the Jaguars’ opening possession of the second half. Brooks’ extra point gave the Jaguars a 21-14 lead with 5:15 left in the third quarter.
With the North defense targeting the Harlan County running backs, Cochran found success with the option as he fooled the Jaguars on a 37-yard run to the North 15, then scored two plays later on a 13-yard run. Kelly’s extra point tied the game with 3:14 to play in the third quarter.
After the Harlan County defense made a stop, Cochran came up big again with a 50-yard run on second-and-15 to the North 8. Two straight runs by Henson, including a 1-yard TD run with 9:47 to play put the Bears ahead for the first time. Kelly’s extra point pushed the lead to seven.
Harlan County came up with another stop, but North also held and forced a punt with just under five minutes to play. With the Jaguars sending 11 men, hoping for a clock, Casolari rushed a low kick that hit several lineman and came to rest on the HCHS 30.
Sizemore picked up one first down, then appeared to score before a holding penalty backed the Jaguars up to the Harlan County 18 for a second-and-10 situation. Sizemore gained two yards, then six to set up a fourth-and-two from the 10. He was stopped about a yard short on fourth down with 1:01 left. The Bears were able to run out the clock to earn a spot in next Friday’s Region 4 championship game at Southwestern.
“That’s what dreams are made of, fourth-and-two inside the 10 for the ball game,” Creech said. “Our defense has bailed us out all year. They just gave up 21 points down here, and we gave them great field position on two possessions.”
Harlan County 28, North Laurel 21
Harlan County 0 14 7 7 — 28
North Laurel 14 0 7 0 — 21
NL — Rodriguez 38 run (Brooks kick)
NL — Sizemore 6 run (Brooks kick)
HC — Henson 1 run (Kelly kick)
HC — Rodrigues 62 pass from Cochran (Kelly kick)
NL — Sizemore 47 run (Brooks kick)
HC — Cochran 13 run (Kelly kick)
HC — Henson 1 run (Kelly kick)
First downs 9 13
Rushes-yards 25-141 46-245
Passing 119 0
Comp-Att-Int 7-17-0 0-1-0
Punts-Avg 0-0 5-27
Fumbles-Lost 5-1 1-0
Penalties-Yards 7-60 8-95
RUSHING—Harlan County, Cochran 5-105, Henson 9-45, Mickens 5-8, Simmons 1-4, Camical 3-5, Hall 1-1, Casolari 1-(-27). North Laurel, Sizemore 28-144, Rodriguez 7-68, McWhorter 9-23, House 2-10.
PASSING—Harlan County, Cochran 7-16-0-119, Mickens 0-1-0-0. North Laurel, McWhorter 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—Harlan County, Rodrigues 3-74, Simmons 3-39, King 1-6.