The Pineville Mountain Lions are on a serious roll.
Last week they beat Harlan and earned a home playoff game for the first time since 2000. That 50-0 win was their fifth straight victory by at least four touchdowns.
Tonight, they’ll try to get an even bigger monkey off their backs. It was 1999 the last time a Pineville team beat Hazard and if the Lions can do it they’ll win the school’s first district championship since that 2000 season.
It won’t be easy. The Bulldogs (6-2, 2-0) have dominated since joining the other teams in Class 1A, District 6 in 2007. They haven’t dropped a district game in winning the last six titles. This is the first time Pineville (6-2, 2-0) has also been unbeaten going in to the Hazard game.
“We’re thankful to be in the situation we are. It’s been a long time coming and it’s good to be in the mix for the district championship,” Mountain Lion coach Bart Elam said. “The playoff landscape can really change for us if we can go in there and upset Hazard.
“District championships are great and the kids are all excited about playing for one. But it’s like I told them, Why do we want to win the district championship? So we can get Hazard and Williamsburg on the other side of the bracket and open things up for us to go farther in the playoffs and have a shot at the region.”
Last year the Lions came closer than anyone else in the district has to knocking off Hazard in the regular season. They held a second half lead before the Bulldogs scored twice in the to pull out a 28-22 win. The teams met again in the playoffs at Hazard and the Bulldogs had their way in a 47-14 win.
“Our program has steadily grown to where we feel like we belong in situations like these. A lot of the kids on this team got to experience us having them on the ropes in the regular season and playing up there in the playoffs,” Elam said. “Those experiences help, year after year.”
The coach was quick to point out that this is a different season and a different group of players.
“They’re not worried about what happened last year, they’re going on how they feel at this time. They’ve won five straight and they want to keep that feeling. Our kids feel confident in how they’re playing football.”
Pineville’s offense is led by the one-two punch of senior Conner Ford and sophomore Brad Fuson at running back. Ford has run for 950 yards on 84 carries while Fuson has gained 747 yards on 95 attempts. They have each ran for 13 touchdowns.
Freshman quarterback Tucker Woolum has completed 55 of 98 passes for 931 yards and nine touchdowns. The leading receivers are freshman Will Adams (21 catches-339 yards-2 touchdowns), senior Dalton Ledbetter (17-297-4) and Ford (15-293-3).
The Bulldogs are still operating out of the spread, but with a freshman of their own at quarterback in Tanner Morgan, Hazard’s offense is built more around the running of junior running back Brandon Jones. Jones has run for 1263 yards and 13 touchdowns on 110 carries.
“(Jones) is a big-bodied kid that can really move, he’s a game-changer,” Elam said. “Their quarterback hasn’t been the driving force of their offense, yet. They’re probably trying to keep the pressure off him like we have with our freshman quarterback. He’s good, but he hasn’t shown the arm strength they’ve had in the past and they’re not as fast on the edges — Now that’s comparing them to other Hazard teams, not to other Mountain teams that we play. They’re faster than we are and we’re hoping to win the battle in the trenches.”
Senior Chris Hudson leads the Bulldogs with 34 catches for 669 yards and nine touchdowns. Trey Higgins, Jason Johnson and Jacob Blanton are also involved in the passing game. Morgan has completed 97 of 145 passes for 1483 yards and 16 touchdowns with six interceptions.
“It’s still Hazard and they’ve got a great team like they always do,” Elam added. “Our kids have been focused all week. It’s a crazy place to go play but I think they’re ready to go and play well.”
The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.