Football notebook: Dragons lose district shootout, Bears downed by Southwestern

Published 3:30 pm Monday, October 2, 2023

For more excellent local sports coverage, visit our content partners at Harlan County Sports.

By John Henson

Contributing Sports Writer

Dragons fall to Middlesboro in district clash

Two years after making a run to the state semifinals in 2A and with the goal of doing it again in 1A this year, the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets and coach Larry French were feeling more than a little fortunate after hanging on for a 40-24 win Friday at Harlan.

The Jackets gave up 257 yards on the ground, including 202 yards and two touchdowns to junior tailback Darius Akal, as they found themselves in a shootout in a first half that featured 48 points. The Middlesboro defense made a couple of stops down the stretch after the Dragons had pulled within eight points in the third quarter. Middlesboro moved to 2-0 in district play and 4-2 overall.

Harlan fell to 1-6 after its sixth straight loss but showed improvement against a Middlesboro squad that was the preseason favorite in District 7.

“I thought we played really well offensively,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said. “We ran the football like we wanted. Our offensive line played awesome and reverted back to their old self. We did that against Middlesboro last year. We got behind and had to take some chances, but all in all I’m pretty pleased. Kudos to Middlesboro for making enough plays to win. I was proud of the kids for not falling apart with a little adversity. If we keep going, we’ll be a tough out for somebody (in the playoffs).”

Middlesboro senior quarterback/defensive back Cayden Grigsby, the district’s preseason player of the year, electrified the crowd before many were settled in their seats as he found a seam on the kickoff in an 82-yard touchdown return. He threw to Jack Yoakum for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead only 16 seconds into the game.

Middlesboro travels to Pineville on Friday. Harlan is open next week before traveling to Lynn Camp on Oct. 13.

The Southwestern Warriors have finally begun to look like their usual selves after falling in their first two contests, as they have won three straight heading into their second district clash of the season against the winless Harlan County Black Bears.

Southwestern rolls past HCHS in 5A district clash

By Steve Cornelius
Commonwealth Journal

The Warriors were expected to win this one running away and after just one half of football at the Reservation the outcome of the game was academic, as Southwestern cruised to a 49-12 victory over the now 0-6 Black Bears.

Southwestern opened up the scoring in the first quarter with a 2-yard touchdown rush by Braxton Walters. A PAT later from Jayce Gager and the Warriors held a quick 7-0 lead. The scoring didn’t stop there for the home team in the first period of action either as Christian Walden got in on the fun with a 1-yard rush for touchdown number two of the night for the Warriors, as they now led 14-0 after one-quarter of action and little offense so far from their opponents.
Walden wouldn’t be denied his second score of the night in the second quarter as he had a huge rush from 54 yards out that further pushed the Southwestern lead to 21-0 after a third successful PAT from Gager. The scoring still wasn’t done in the half, however, as Walden grabbed a third touchdown for the game on a punt return that saw him score from 49 yards out, making it 28-0.
Harlan County finally broke its drought on the scoreboard on a 45-yard touchdown completion from Ethan Rhymer to Carter Howard to make the score 28-6. Southwestern was able to add one more score before the break as Kaedan Flores caught a 7-yard strike from quarterback Collin Burton to increase the Warriors’ lead to 35-6 heading into the locker room.
The Bears added another score in the second half and faced a running clock for much of the final two quarters
Southwestern improved to 4-2 for the year and will host a tough Franklin County team out of Class 4A next Friday at the Reservation. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Harlan County will play at South Laurel on Friday.