Pineville nips Green Dragons in Class ‘A’ Playoffs

Published 3:57 pm Monday, November 8, 2021

By Paul Lunsford

Two weeks ago, Pineville scored eight touchdowns, rushed for nearly 400 yards and whipped the visiting Green Dragons 59-20.

In the first round of the Class A, District 8 playoffs on Thursday, the rematch was a total different ballgame. The game wasn’t decided until the final 78 seconds.

“We went in to it knowing we had to create a couple of turnovers and force them to punt a couple of times, we’d be in the game. We did both,” said Harlan coach Eric Perry, who completed his third season with the Dragons.

With the Mountain Lions leading 29-26, Harlan was marching down field in the final 2:48. Dragons quarterback Cade Middleton dumped a short pass off to Jayden Ward. As Ward turn to run, after a 10-yard reception, Pineville stripped the ball away and recovered with 1:08 to play.

The Lions ran three plays and escaped with the victory.

“I hated to see the fumble happen to Jayden. He has really gutted it out the last three weeks with the ankle injury. He just pushed thought for his teammates,” said Perry.

Pineville (8-3) will advance to the district championship on Friday at Williamsburg. The 7-3 Yellow Jackets, who had a first-round bye, defeated Pineville 21-13 on Oct. 15 in Williamsburg.

The Lions gained 370 yards on the ground. Morris led Pineville with 199 yards on 23 carries. King added 81 yards on 13 rushes while Atavius Flanary gained 68 yards.

Harlan finished with 241 rushing yards. Junior running back Dylan Middleton led the Green Dragons with 104 yards on 12 carries. Ward added 89 yards on 17 rushes. Cade Middleton gained 50 yards on seven carries.

“Dylan Middleton was a man among boys tonight on both sides of the ball,” said Perry. “As happy as I was with play, I was even more happy that he dealt with adversity without losing his cool.”

Cade Middleton completed nine of 16 passes for 46 yards in his final game as a Green Dragon.

The 4-7 Dragons were whistled for 10 penalties for 95 yards. Harlan picked up 17 first downs.

Will Austin recovered three fumbles while Tayquan Vick and Darius Akal each recovered one.

Dylan Middleton led the Harlan defense with 13 tackles. Vick followed with eight. Robert Sanford added seven. Jared Eldridge, Austin and Evan Browning had six apiece. Trenton Childers and Ward each collected five. Matthew Nunez, Dawson Irvin and Akal had four apiece.

“I thought the offensive and defensive line played really well. That OL is gonna be together two and three years, and I expect them to do big things if they will commit to the weight room,” said Perry.

It appeared the first half would close in a scoreless tie.

Harlan was forced to punt with 27 seconds left in the second quarter. Pineville took the punt back to the Dragons 17-yard line. On the first play, Devon Morris took the hand-off and scored, giving the Lions a 6-0 advantage at halftime.

Pineville opened the second half receiving the ball. A nine-play, 53-yard drive was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Landon King. King added the two-point conversion as the Lions led 14-0.

Harlan fought back and needed just four plays to score thanks to Will Austin’s 42-yard kickoff return.

Dylan Middleton scored on a 25-yard TD run at the 5:41 mark. Cade Middleton’s conversion run made it 14-8.

The Green Dragons recovered the kickoff and took over at the Pineville 33. Four plays later, Dylan Middleton went in from the 9 as Harlan tied the game.

A pair of Dragon penalties, gave Pineville the ball on the Harlan 17. Four plays later, Morris scored from the 1. Luke Naylor’s kick made it 21-14.

“Morris got a few yards tonight but he took a beating in the process,” added Perry.

Harlan put together an impressive drive that started on its own 28. Ward picked up 15 yards and Dylan Middleton had an 18-yard run. The drive was capped as Cade Middleton connected with Dylan Middleton on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 7:37 to play. The two-point conversion run failed as the Lions led 21-20.

With 5:30 remaining, Pineville was forced to punt. Ward was able to block the punt and Darius Akal went 14 yards for the score. Dylan Middleton’s conversion run failed but the Dragons led by 5.

On the kickoff, Harlan was whistled for an unsportsmanlike penalty putting the ball at the Dragon 42. Morris had a 16-yard run followed by a 19-yard TD run from King. King’s two-point conversion run gave the Mountains Lions a three-point lead.

Harlan will lose five seniors, Cade Middleton, Browning, Eldridge, Andrew Roark and Jonathan Lewis.

“Hated we couldn’t pull it off for the seniors,” said Perry. “But we faught our tails off until the end.

The Green Dragons lost Donovan Montanaro, Hanna Pace and Lewis to injuries this season.

“I really feel we would have scored on that last drive. We had been in that situation already a couple of times this year and that had prepared us this particular situation,” added Perry.