This time last week the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets were riding high. They were 4-0 with three 20-plus point wins and their first victory over Bell County since 1997. The defense hadn’t allowed more than 20 points in any game and were coming off their most dominant performance yet, a 47-2 win at Harlan.
It all came crashing down last Friday at Pikeville. The Panthers took advantage of a bunch of Jacket turnovers — that was the biggest difference in a game in which neither defense could stop the opposing offense — to pull away for a 77-46 win.
“We got humbled last week,” Middlesboro coach Randy Frazier said. “It was embarrassing for our defense and I take full responsibility for that.”
The coach tried some different alignments on the defensive side of the ball to try and slow down Pikeville’s offense and the plan backfired.
“We got away from what we normally do and it led to some missed assignments and took us out of being the aggressive team that we had been,” he said. “I can guarantee that we’re doing everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
So the focus on defense this week has been getting back to basics. Frazier said he’s opened up the competition for several spots on that side of the ball as the Jackets get ready for another tough test in 4-1 Union, Va. Union is in its third year after being formed from the merger of Powell Valley and Appalachia — two tradition-rich smaller football programs in southwest Virginia.
The Bears have won four straight games after a close loss in their opener. They’ll be facing the Middlesboro defenders that have shown they know their responsibilities in practice.
“Guys that don’t get it down are going to come out. I don’t care if they’re the best athlete on the team, they’re not going to play if they don’t know what they’re doing. That’s only fair to the rest of the team,” Frazier said. “We’re getting ready to play a good football team, we’ve got to put last week behind us and come out ready to play.”
As far as the turnovers, Frazier said 90 percent of them were mental mistakes.
“We’ve just got to stay focused on what we’re doing, concentrate on the task at hand. We can’t be worried about what’s going on around us, everybody has to be focused on doing their job,” he said. “Three of them came on kick returns. Our guys have to go block when the ball doesn’t come to them. We didn’t do that on Friday and we didn’t give our returners much of a chance.”
There were certainly some bright spots to that last game, especially on offense. Senior Donnie Foister stepped in for an injured Major Edwards at quarterback and played a great game. He completed 18 of 21 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 44 yards and another score. Senior receiver Austin Poindexter broke out with seven catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan Pittman ran for nearly 100 yards and two touchdowns and also ran a kickoff back for a touchdown.
The Jackets got down 42-12 early in the second quarter after losing the ball on three straight Pikeville kickoffs. But came back to get as close as 15 points before two more late turnovers helped the Panthers pull away.
“There were positives. After getting down big like we did, it’s amazing that we got ourselves back into the ballgame. Our offense did a great job and we competed until the end,” Frazier said.
While Friday definitely didn’t go as planned, there is a school of thought that a loss could be a good thing for getting the team refocused before district play begins.
“Obviously we want to win every time we step onto that field,” the coach said. “Did that game humble us? Yes. Do I still think we’ve got a good football team? Yes. That’s not the end of our season. These kids want to come out this week and show what they can do.
“It opened our eyes to some things that we have to do better. Now we’ve got to see how the team reacts. During my time here we’ve been able to bounce back. We lost big against Alcoa (Tenn.) and then came back the next week and beat a good Letcher Central team. We can bounce back, we’ve just got to put that last game behind us.”
Edwards was still in a walking boot at practice earlier this week so it looks like Foister will again be behind center on Friday. Jake Brock was in pads and participating on a limited basis so he appears likely to return.
Friday’s game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Bradner Stadium.