Leslie defense shuts down Dragons in second half, wins 21-18

Published 11:41 am Tuesday, November 1, 2022

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By Paul Lunsford

Contributing Writer

The Leslie County duo of quarterback Landry Collett and receiver Wyatt Hensley was too much for Harlan on Friday as the Eagles overcame a halftime deficit with a 21-18 win to close the regular season for both teams.

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Harlan took an 18-7 advantage into the break before Leslie County fought back.

Neither team was able to find the end zone in the third quarter.

With 10:30 left in the game, Collett found Hensley for an 18-yard touchdown pass to cap a 12-play drive that covered 68 yards. Bryce Pugh added the extra point as Leslie County pulled within 18-15.

On the kickoff, Darius Akal returned the football 45 yards to the Eagle 29. The Green Dragons weren’t able to move the ball and turned the ball over on downs.

“We would have never been in that situation had we scored the three separate times we were inside the five-yard line in the first half,” said Harlan coach Eric Perry.

“Twice we were third and goal at the inch line and didn’t punch it in. You can’t afford to miss out on opportunities like that.”

The Eagles took over on their own 20 with 8:26 remaining.

Leslie County used a 10-play, covering 80 yards with the help of three Harlan penalties for 35 yards.

At the 2:44 mark, Hensley’s 18-yard touchdown from Collett gave the Eagles a three-point advantage.

With the ball on the Dragon 41, Harlan started the drive with a 10-yard holding penalty, followed by an offensive pass interference call moving the ball to the 16.

Facing first-down-and-35, Donovan Montanaro connected with Will Austin for a 38-yard reception.

Montanaro picked another first down with a 15-yard keeper, but on the following play, the Harlan QB was called for intentional grounding and loss of a down.

The Leslie County defense stood strong as Montanaro had two incomplete passes, followed by a two-yard keeper and turning the ball over on downs with 58 seconds left on the clock.

Collett was able to kneel twice as the Eagles ran out the clock.

Since 1998, Leslie County has defeated the Dragons seven times out of 11 games.

Collett, a sophomore quarterback, completed 15 of 26 passes for 173 yards, including three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Leslie County gained 91 yards rushing on 24 carries. Junior Dalton Maggard led the Eagles with 44 yards on nine carries. Wyatt Ostrander added 29 yards.

Montanaro, a junior QB, passed for 96 yards on three of seven attempts. Austin had two receptions for 71 yards. Dylan Middleton added a 25-yard pass.

Senior running back Jayden Ward powered Harlan with 165 yards on 28 carries. Ward reached the 1,000-yard mark on his first carry of the game. He has 1,160 yards on the season.

Montanaro rushed for 78 yards on 11 carries for the Dragons.

Montanaro and Austin each led Harlan with seven tackles. Nate Montanaro added six. Middleton had two tackles for lost yardage.

On Harlan’s first possession of the game, the Dragons marched down the field. A 44-yard run by Ward put the football on the 8-yard line.

The Leslie County defense stood strong to deep HHS out of the end zone with 7:10 left in the quarter.

Harlan opened the scoring with 7:04 to play in the opening period as Leslie County’s Pugh was tackled in the end zone by Dylan Middleton, giving the Dragons a 2-0 lead.

On the kickoff, Austin raced 56 yards for a touchdown, but Harlan was called for holding.

Two plays later, Ward raced 31 yards for the TD. Montanaro added the two-point conversion as the Green Dragons led 10-0.

On the ensuing kickoff, Hensley broke free and went 59 yards to the Harlan 26. Three plays later, Collett hit Hensley for a 7-yard touchdown reception. Jesse Osborne’s kick made it 10-7 with 4:11 left in the first period.

With 9:55 remaining in the first half, Harlan’s Noah Kirby intercepted a Collett pass at the Leslie County 15.

The Green Dragons needed six plays to score as Ward went in from the 9 at the 6:34 mark. Ward’s two-point conversion pushed the lead to 18-7.

Leslie County covered 36 yards on six plays but was whistled for two unsportsmanship penalties.

At the 4:10 mark, the drive ended as Montanaro intercepted a Collett pass, giving the Dragons the ball at the Leslie 17.

Harlan was called for 15 penalties, which covered 136 yards. Leslie County had 75 yards on eight penalties.

“Yes, there were some questionable calls and obviously, no call on the face mask on Jayden,” said Perry. “Then again, both teams had two TDs called back as well.”

Things got heated following the game, one Harlan parent was attempting to fight with the Dragon coaching staff. The Leslie County Sheriff’s Department had to restore order and removed the parent from the playing field.

‘I thought our guys battled hard through all the adversity and craziness that went on over there,” added Perry.

Leslie County (5-5) will travel to Martin County (6-4) in the first round of the KHSAA Playoffs on Friday.

The Eagles were defeated by Martin County 41-19 in the season-opener.

Harlan (7-3) opens the Class A Playoffs at home against Lexington Sayre (5-5) on Friday. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.

The Green Dragons downed the Spartans 50-42 on Sept. 23 at home.