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Dragons, Bears close season with non-district games

Both the Harlan Green Dragons and Harlan County Black Bears will close their regular-season schedules Friday against non-district opponents with Harlan (1-8) at home against Leslie County (4-5) and Harlan County (7-2) traveling to Bell County (9-0).

A rebuilding campaign has gone much as expected for the Dragons, who have struggled with inexperience and low numbers throughout the season. Harlan finished 0-3 in district competition with a 42-0 loss at Pineville last week and will travel to top-seeded Williamsburg on Nov. 8 in the playoffs. Harlan coach Eric Perry would like to build some momentum for his young squad going into the playoffs with a strong showing Friday, but it hasn’t been easy with only 15-20 players in practice.

“We are having a hard time simulating game speed with our lack of numbers,” Perry said. “We have had to do mainly half line stuff and last week we were not even able to do that.”

Leslie features a balanced offensive attack with Zack Parker providing a threat through the air. He has completed 73 of 123 passes for 1,146 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Trent Asher has 27 receptions for 624 yards and Alex Farler has 21 catches for 223 yards.

“Leslie is big and physical, pretty much what you always see from them,” Perry said.

Branndon Stubblefield leads the Eagles’ ground game with 656 yards and 11 touchdowns through seven games. Asher has 516 yards on the ground with nine touchdowns.

Harlan did finally get some good news on the injury front with junior quarterback Connor Scearse released to play after missing most of the season with a broken arm. Junior receiver/defensive back Juan Bynum could also see action this week. Tristan Cochran remains out of action with an injury.

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Containing senior quarterback London Stephney will be the top priority for a Harlan County defense that has struggled to stop playmakers in losses to Wayne County and Johnson Central. Stephney, one of the state’s fastest athletes, has passed for 960 yards and rushed for 672. Jason Jones hurt the Bears last year in a win at Harlan County and leads Bell again this year with 29 catches for 611 yards and six touchdowns.

“London is a special athlete who only comes along once in a blue moon. He is a game changer and the straw that stirs their drink,” Harlan County coach Eddie Creech said.

Brandon Baker has taken over as the Bobcats’ top rusher with Colby Frazier leaving for Pineville. Baker has rushed for 1,082 yards with 14 touchdowns.

Creech knows his squad faces one of its toughest tests of the season on Friday night against Dudley Hilton’s Bobcats, who have already clinched a district title and will enter the playoffs as one of the favorites in 3A.

“Bell is 9-0, averaging 46 points a game and is ranked No. 1 in 3A. They are playing on Log Mountain and it is Senior Night,” he said. “We have to find a way to slow down London. We can’t allow him to break big, long TD runs at will. Offensively, we have to play smart, physical football with zero mental errors.”

Harlan County clinched second place in District 8 of 4A with a 49-19 win over Perry Central last week. Senior running backs Ben Landis and Tyler Casolari continued to lead the HCHS offense as Landis ran for 91 yards and Casolari added 52. Josh Turner contributed 44 yards at fullback.

The Bears will play host to Clay County next week in the first round of the 4A playoffs.