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Patriots rally past Letcher Central for title

New Harlan overcame a deficit in the first half and a deficit in the second half on the way to a seventh- and eighth-grade Southeastern Football Conference championship Saturday.

The Patriots rallied from deficits of 6-0 and 14-6 to edge visiting Letcher Central 20-14 in the championship game at the James A. Cawood field.

“They had an outstanding defensive plan,” New Harlan coach Scott Caldwell said. “They were taking away our runs up the middle and keying on (Caleb) Johnson on the outside. Our blocking backs stepped up. They were keying on (tackle Jacob) Shoemaker, so we started running away from him some and we broke some big runs.”

The Patriots’ defense and special teams came up big late, especially Johnson, who forced a fumble with the game tied that Darren Alred recovered. Johnson then recovered an onside kick in the final minute to seal the win.

“Our defense was the reason we held on,” Caldwell said. “We contained their quarterback and made their running back work.”

Dawson Cornett’s 40-yard touchdown run followed by a two-point conversion gave the Cougars an eight-point lead in the third quarter. The Cougars also recovered the ensuing onside kick, but the Patriots held. Johnson ran 34 yards to highlight a nine-play drive that ended with Johnson’s 11-yard run with 2:19 left in regulation. Samuel Henson’s two-point conversion tied the game.

Alred’s fumble recovery put the Patriots back in business. Carter Howard used a nice stiff arm to break free for a 34-yard gain to the Letcher 3. Two penalties pushed the Patriots back to the 11, but Johnson went in from there with 1:21 left. Johnson then recovered the onside kick to allow New Harlan to run out the clock.

Letcher scored first on a 40-yard punt return, but the Patriots responded with a 10-play drive. Howard, Alred and Will Cassim each picked up first downs before Henson broke free around left end for the tying touchdown with 4:40 left in the first half.

The Patriots finished the season with a 7-4 record and will send a strong eighth-grade class to Harlan County.

“This team could easily be undefeated. We lost a couple of close ones,” Caldwell said. “This team is one of the best I’ve coached. They aren’t as fast as some I’ve coached, but they are big and strong. It should be an outstanding group coming up in high school.”

The game was moved from HCHS to Cawood due to a power outage that knocked out the lights at Coal Miners Memorial Stadium.

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With over 2,600 yards of rushing by each of them, Jake Brewer and Jayce Brown have been a potent 1-2 combination in the New Harlan backfield the past two seasons.

Brown took.center stage on Saturday in the fifth- and sixth-grade Southeastern Football Conference championship game at Harlan County High School as he scored four touchdowns in the Patriots’ 36-0 victory over Letcher Central. It was the second straight title for the Patriots, who finished 8-2 this year.

“They were keying in on Brewer and left Brown open, so we took advantage of it,” New Harlan coach Steven Ray said. “Jayce is very fast. He is a playmaker.

After a scoreless first quarter, Brown raced 80 yards in the second quarter for a 6-0 halftime lead.

A 4-yard run by Brown pushed the Patriots’ lead to 12-0. Brown ran 74 yards for a TD midway through period. Brody Hensley went in for the two-point conversion and 20-0 lead.

Brown’s speed came up big on special teams as he ran down an onside kick on the Letcher 22. He scored two plays later on an 18-yard run. Gunner Burkhart’s two-point conversion stretched the lead to 28-0.

Brown came up big on defense as he picked off a pass and returned it to the Letcher 35. Brewer and Burkhart each picked up first downs to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Brewer in the fourth quarter. Landon Brock threw to Brayden Fultz for the two-point conversion to close the scoring.

“We played real well today. We have most of the same starters from last year,” Ray said. “Brewer and Brown have been our workhorses, but they know it’s all due to our line. Those guys (tackles Eian Caldwell and Landon Sizemore, guards Jayden Tindell and Colby Bray and center Brayden Clay) have been great all season.”

Brown led the defense with seven tackles. Brewer had six, followed by Fultz with five and Wyatt Hensley, Burkhart and Brayden Morris with four each.

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Evarts rolled to a 40-0 win over Cumberland to claim third place as Reggie Cottrell and Bradon Middleton led the Wildcats with two touchdowns each.

Cottrell scored in the first quarter and Shemar Carr followed with a two-point conversion. Cottrell scored in the second quarter and Brady Freeman went in for two points. Bradon Middleton had a touchdown and Gunnar Middleton added the two-point conversion for a 24-0 half-time lead.

Bradon Middleton scored in the third quarter and Carr added the two-point conversion. Freeman scored later in the period and Gunnar Middleton followed with the two-point conversion.

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Cumberland fell 22-14 to Leslie County in a seventh- and eighth-grade game at HCHS.

The Redskins, who finished the season at 3-11, scored first when Cameron Anderson teamed with Jonah Mumford for a 35-yard halfback pass. Shawn Carrolll added the two-point conversion.

The Redskins led 8-0 until Leslie pulled even with a touchdown late in the third quarter. The Eagles added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

Joe Cornett scored on a 75-yard run on the game’s final play.