Bears dominate in first-round rout of Clay County
For the ninth time in 12 years, the Harlan County Black Bears won a first-round playoff game and did it in dominating fashion Friday with a 53-14 rout of visiting Clay County.
The Black Bears focused their defensive efforts on Clay senior tailback Chandler Hibbard, limiting him to zero yards on six carries in the first half and only three yards for the game. The Tigers were held to 39 yards rushing for the game on 19 carries, forcing senior quarterback Ethan Hacker to carry the offense. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 176 yards, but was picked off twice, his first two interceptions of the year.
“This game looked a lot different than the first matchup,” said coach Eddie Creech of Harlan County’s 21-7 win in Manchester. “I think a lot of that was due to our mental focus on both sides of the ball.”
The Bears dominated on the ground behind a strong performance from the offensive front, leading to 361 yards rushing.
“I was really proud of our guys up front. We communicated well,” Creech said. “The last time in Manchester, (Deon McCulley) gave us a fit and we made sure we had hits on him all night. We could have done a lot better on two-point conversions, but overall it was a good win. This is our time of year and we just try to survive and advance.”
Harlan County scored on its first five possessions, rolling up 225 yards on the ground in the first half, led by 153 yards from senior Ben Landis, who went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
A Jacob Bailey interception on the second play from scrimmage was returned 40 yards to the Clay 26. Tyler Casolari scored five plays later for a 6-0 lead.
After stopping Clay on downs, the Bears needed only three players to cover 59 yards. Matt Brown ran 10 years, then Landis went 42 before Casolari went in from the 7 with 4:33 left for a 12-0 lead.
Clay scored when Ethan Hacker found Brady Wolfe on a screen pass that turned into a 36-yard touchdown. Deon McCulley’s extra point was no good and HCHS led 12-6 with 2:21 to play in the first quarter.
The second quarter was dominated by the Bears, beginning with a seven-play, 52-yard drive that ended with fullback Josh Turner’s 5-yard run. Demarco Hopkins, Brown and Landis each had long runs in the series.
The HCHS defense accounted for the next score as linebacker Hunter Blevins picked off a Hacker pass and took it back 37 yards for a touchdown. The Bears led 24-6 with 9:25 to play before the half.
Landis covered 44 yards in three plays, scoring on a 4-yard with 5:57 to play in the half. Landis’ two-point conversion extended the Bears’ lead to 32-6.
Senior quarterback Jacob Willson completed three passes in the Bears’ last drive of the half, teaming with Tyler Flanary for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 4.5 seconds left. Wilson teamed with Casolari for the two-point conversion and a 40-6 lead.
The Bears fumbled on their first drive of the second half but scored on the second after getting the ball back when Hunter Helton and Gavin Ewald teamed for a sack on fourth down. Casolari and Landis took turns in a five-play drive that ended with Casolari’s 5-yard run with 7:36 left in the third quarter. Jordan Steele’s extra point pushed the lead to 47-6 and started a running clock.
Hacker completed three passes in Clay’s second scoring drive then ran in from the 3 in the closing seconds of the third quarter. Adam Collins added the two-point conversion.
The HCHS reserves ate up the entire fourth quarter in an 11-play, 60-yard scoring drive led by Luke Carr and Zack Potter, who teamed for 75 yards rushing in the fourth quarter. Potter went in from the 2 on the final play of the game.
The 8-3 Bears will travel to Johnson Central on Friday for the second round of the 4A playoffs. Clay ended the season with a 7-4 record.
Harlan County 53, Clay County 14
Clay County 6 0 8 0 —14
Harlan County 12 28 7 6 — 53
HC — Casolari 2 run (run failed)
HC — Casolari 7 run (pass failed)
CC — Wolfe 36 pass from Hacker (kick failed)
HC — Turner 5 run (run failed)
HC — Blevins 37 interception return (pass failed)
HC — Landis 4 run (Landis run)
HC — Flanary 26 pass from Wilson (Casolari pass from Wilson)
HC — Casolari 5 run (Steele kick)
CC — Hacker 3 run (Collins run)
HC — Potter 2 run
First downs 12 18
Rushing-Yds 19-39 42-361
Passing 176 40
Comp-Att-Int 15-26-2 3-4-0
Penalties 6-40 10-105
Punts 1-41 0-0
Fumbles 1-0 4-3
RUSHING—Clay County, Meadows 2-14, Hacker 8-12, McCulley 2-10, Hibbard 7-3. Harlan County, Landis 11-179, Potter 5-43, Casolari 7-39, Brown 2-32, Carr 5-32, J. Bailey 3-26, Hopkins 3-7, T. Bailey 2-5, Turner 2-5, Clayborn 1-0, Wilson 1(-7).
PASSING — Clay County, Hacker 15-25-2-17, Langdon 0-1-0-0. Harlan County, Wilson 3-4-0-40.
RECEIVING—Clay County, Collins 5-56, Abner 3-39, Saylor 3-26, Wolfe 2-46, Hubbard 2-9. Harlan County, Flanary 2-27, M. Brown 1-13.