Taking another shot at pigskin prognostications
Published 10:45 pm Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Players and coaches have come and gone over the last four decades of football, but my attempt at prognostication perfection carries on for the 35th straight summer as I share my thoughts on what to expect this upcoming season.
Some years have been better than others, but you can always count on making someone mad when you make predictions.
Some coaches through the years took offense when I picked their team to have a bad season, including the coach who kept count through the season with his postgame comments, noting when his team matched my win total for the year, then exceeded it, by one game, then two, then three…
Some coaches took offense when I picked them to do well, going back to the late 1980s after the opening game at Bell County when Cawood coach Jim Cullivan made it clear he thought I was putting too much pressure on his Trojans.
The thing to remember is that it’s nothing personal and it doesn’t mean I want a local team to lose because I pick against them. It’s an honest look at what I expect.
Middlesboro sports editor John Dunn shares his predictions on the Bell County teams.
Harlan County (7-3)
A tough non-district schedule has played a big part in slow starts for the Bears the past several years, even though Harlan County rebounded to win a regional title in 2017 and a district championship in 2018. The early problems don’t appear to be as likely this year with fewer powerhouses on the schedule.
Harlan County already has one win to its credit with a forfeit victory over Harlan due to the Dragons’ struggles to field a team in summer workouts. A trip to Hazard the second week should go a long way in determining if the Bears are improved. Harlan County lost to Hazard the last two years, but I expect a win this time around.
The Bears should have a fairly easy time in their home opener against Martin County, a school formerly known as Sheldon Clark. A home game the following week against Knox Central will provide another tough test. The Panthers have dominated the series in recent years. I expect the game to be closer this time, but I will have to stay with the Panthers. Harlan County hasn’t had much luck lately against Wayne County either, and I will stick with the Cardinals again, even though it appears the Bears match up much better than in previous years.
Harlan County will travel to Clay County in Week 6 and should leave with a win before opening its district slate the following week against Letcher Central. I expect the Bears to beat Letcher before falling to Johnson Central. I’ll take the Bears at home against Perry Central and then in a slight upset at Bell County to close the regular season.
Heavy graduation losses and low numbers make this a very challenging season for first-year coach Eric Perry and the Dragons, who start 0-1 with a forfeit loss to Harlan County. The Week 2 game against Berea is crucial because the Pirates are traditionally one of the state’s worst teams and a loss would be a bad sign for what’s to come. I’ll take the Dragons in that one, but I’ll go with an improving Phelps the following week. A game the following week at Thomas Walker, Va., is also very winnable, and I’ll pick Harlan even though Thomas Walker won there two years ago.
A game Sept. 20 at Middlesboro will match two rebuilding teams. The Dragons have held their own in recent years against the Jackets, but I’ll give the edge to Middlesboro at home. Harlan should bounce back the following week at home against Jenkins, a team the Dragons have dominated for quite a while.
The Dragons’ district schedule opens Oct. 11 against a powerhouse Williamsburg team that should roll to another district title. Harlan will have a much better chance the following two weeks against Lynn Camp and Pineville, but being on the road both weeks could be too much for the Dragons to overcome. Harlan will close the season at home against a pretty good Leslie County squad that should find a way to win.
Last season was my first year covering the student-athletes of Bell County, Pineville and Middlesboro. I saw a lot of wonderful athletes play with intensity, effort and heart. Since last season, a lot has changed in the way football looks around here.
Pineville now has Randy Frazier as head coach, Middlesboro now has Larry French as head coach and Dudley Hilton is still on Log Mountain, continuing his legendary career.
After a full season and offseason of getting to know the teams in and out, I feel acclimated enough to make a prediciton on the season for each team. Along with becoming more familiar with the teams and players, I have become more familiar with the coaches. I will be the first to tell you, between all three high schools, this county has the best trio of coaches in the entire state of Kentucky.
Even though I’m fairly new to the area and Middlesboro athletics, even I know it has been a tough few years for the Yellow Jackets. With only five total wins since the 2015 season, I expect Middlesboro to match that total in this season alone.
Even though there has been a slight issue in having the number of available bodies, I feel like the Yellow Jackets have a favorable schedule this season as well as some under-the-radar athletes.
I expect big things from Jabari Kyle, on both sides of the ball. I’ve watched him play basketball for a year now and watched him run too, he is extremely athletic and will be a great WR/DB for the Jackets this season. I also expect Connor Griffin and Hunter Hoskins to be two of the best offensive linemen in the area, allowing Middlesboro to open up its offense.
The biggest reason I have Middlesboro improving so much this season is their most dangerous weapon on the field, coach French. He is a proven coach whose record speaks for itself. If French can get this young, but talented, team to buy into what he is trying to do, 1998 won’t seem like such a long time ago.
Bell County (10-0)
Being from just over the border into Tennessee, I had heard all about Bell County football and the tradition they had. Last season was my first time getting to experience what it was really like.
Coming off of an 11-2 season last year, the Bobcats look as good now as they did at the peak of the 2018 season. With players like London Stephney, Jason Jones, Hunter Bailey, Caleb LeFevers and Tyson Thomas all coming back things look good on Log Mountain this season.
After switching districts, the Bobcats will not play against Middlesboro or Corbin this season. With a favorable schedule, incredible coaching staff and incredibly talented roster, I expect Bell County to stroll into the playoffs undefeated in 2019.
I expect Knox Central and Harlan County to be Bell County’s toughest competition this season, however, with both games being at Bell, I expect the Bobcats to walk away with Ws in both.
Pineville reminds me of where I went to school. It’s a really small school that takes on the “underdog” role everytime they take the court or field. These athletes play with a chip on their shoulder every single game.
After starting the season by winning four of their first five in 2018, the Mountain Lions saw a sharp drop in productivity near the end of the season. However, first year head coach Randy Frazier has done an excellent job at getting this team prepared. I had a chance to check them out at practice a few times before the season and they are bigger, faster and stronger than last year.
I expect big things out of Scooby Morris, Reece Capps, Landon Couch and Dylan Morris. Couch and Dylan Morris are seniors and will be leading this team from both sides of the ball all season long. Expect Couch to have a breakout year at receiver.
With a favorable schedule, a vastly improved team and coach Frazier leading the way, I expect Paris and Williamsburg to be the only teams that Pineville is unable to overcome this season.