To ensure their first district championship since 2006 and home field advantage for the first three rounds of the playoffs Middlesboro will have take down the two-time defending champs on the road. The Jackets head to Somerset’s Briar Patch this evening to take on the Briar Jumpers at 7:30 p.m.
Somerset (4-4, 1-1) has won Class 2A’s District 7 each of the past two seasons, and entered this year as the favorite to make it three in a row. However, the Jumpers have battled several injuries at key positions for much of the season and have struggled to a .500 record.
“They’ve had a lot of injuries and you don’t really know who is back and who is still going to be out for them. We’ve just got to go and play our game and limit the turnovers,” Middlesboro coach Randy Frazier said. “We really don’t know what to expect from them because of those injuries. I do know that they have a ton of athletes and a ton of seniors. They’re an experienced football team that has done a lot of great things.
“Until this year they hadn’t lost a game in this district, they’ve won it the last two years. I still feel like they’re the best team in the district until we can beat them.”
Middlesboro (7-1, 2-0) was winless over their first two seasons in the new district before breaking through this year. The Jackets have played the Jumpers tough each of the last two meetings and would win the district outright with a victory. MHS would still win the district with a loss as long as Danville beats Lexington Christian.
With a win, Somerset would be either the one or two seed for the playoffs but will drop to the number three with a loss. That could set up a re-match between the teams at Middlesboro in the second round of the playoffs, but Frazier said his team isn’t looking that far ahead.
“We’re not approaching it any different. We want to win the district outright,” he said. “I’m not so sure that LCA won’t give Danville all they want and we don’t want to take any chances. If we lose and LCA wins then we won’t win the district.”
While the Jumpers boast 19 seniors on their roster, a couple of underclassmen have been a big part of the offense.
Freshman Jordan Doan has carried the ball 80 times for 626 yards and five touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Castle Hatcher has completed 82 of 161 passes for 1173 yards and ten touchdowns with six interceptions. They both sat out last week’s 21-7 win over Lexington Christian and their status is uncertain for tonight’s game.
Somerset also features one of the top receivers in this part of the state in senior Cam Cheuvront. He’s caught 36 passes for 626 yards and nine touchdowns, including two in last week’s game.
For the season the Jumpers are averaging 24.5 points per game and allowing 23.9.
Middlesboro has outscored their opponents by an average of 38.5 to 20.2 on the year. Their balance on offense has been on display so far in district play as they put up over 300 passing yards in a 28-6 win over LCA and then ran for over 400 in last week’s 42-17 win at Danville.
The only thing that has slowed the Jacket offense has been turnovers. They’ve had to overcome seven of them to win the last two weeks.
“You’ve got to be able to throw the ball a little and have some success throwing it because people will come in and put nine in the box to stop the run. We have the weapons outside so we’re able to do that,” Frazier said. “Our offense is playing extremely well but against a team like Somerset you can’t have the turnovers that we’ve been having. It’s something that we’ve got to work on and we have been working on.
“If we can ever put it all together and have a game with no turnovers and play defense like we’re capable of, then it is scary to think what this team can accomplish.”
Juniors Ryan Pittman and Seth Barton have split the rushing load for Middlesboro. Pittman has 1005 yards and ten touchdowns on 123 carries while Barton has run for 601 yards and 14 touchdowns on 77 carries.
Senior Austin Poindexter leads the MHS receivers with 23 catches for 418 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Jake Brock has 20 receptions for 243 yards and a touchdowns.
Senior Donnie Foister has completed 55 of 77 passes for 814 yards and six touchdowns over the last five games. Junior Major Edwards started the first four games of the year before spraining an ankle early against Harlan. For the year he’s completed 27 of 56 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns and is now close to 100 percent recovered from the injury. Both could see time at quarterback in tonight’s game.
“Donnie is going to start. I don’t want to change anything right now while we’re having success. I want to keep the rhythm going,” Frazier said. “We are expecting Major to see some snaps at quarterback this week and we may ramp that up more over the next couple of weeks as we get into the playoffs.
“We’ve got two really good quarterbacks and they bring some different things to the table. Major is a big, strong runner while Donnie is more elusive and they both throw the ball about the same. It’s nice to have two guys you feel good about in that position and all those guys care about is winning football games.”