Bell County started out fast and finished strong, but in between Harlan County’s rushing attack had their way and the Black Bears held on for a 23-18 win on Log Mountain.
“Our kids played really well again and played with a lot of heart,” Bobcat coach Wayne Mills said. “We didn’t have Austin Caldwell and nobody was really giving us a chance, but we held our own with them.”
Harlan County won the battle up front as they ran for 315 yards on 49 carries and held Bell County to 35 rushing yards in the game.
Senior Carson Whitehead led the way for the Bears with 16 carries for 145 yards, while junior Fred Massey added 140 yards on 23 carries.
“Our offensive line did a great job, and the backs blocked good,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey. “It’s a great win any time you beat Bell County on Log Mountain. I am just thankful for the win.”
The Bobcats kept it close with a couple of big special teams plays and by making some plays in the passing game.
Bell caught their first break on the opening kickoff with the Bears weren’t able to cover it and Justin Warwick fell on the live ball at the Harlan County 32. Two plays later quarterback Peyton Collett found Hayden Gilbert for a 25-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was wide right and the Bobcats led 6-0.
Harlan County answered with a score on the next possession. Scotty Bailey rolled out of the pocket and found receiver Zach Chitwood for a 17-yard completion to the Bell County 46. Two plays later, Whitehead took the hand-off and raced 45 yards off the right side for the score. Massey ran in the two-point try to put the Bears up 8-6.
Bell County quickly regained the lead as Wawrick returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for the touchdown. Collett was stopped on a keeper on the two-point try so the lead was 12-8 less than three minutes into the game.
The pace slowed from there as each defense came up with two stops before the Bears took the lead late in the first half. Harlan County put together a methodical drive that lasted 6:23 and 13 plays. Massey carried the ball six times for 50 yards on the possession. The junior running back capped the drive with a 10-yard run into the end zone on third down. Bailey ran in for the two-point conversion to make it 16-12.
After forcing a three-and-out, Harlan County put together another time consuming drive to open the second half. The Bears marched 66 yards on a 12-play drive that spanned nearly eight minutes. Massey and Chitwood combined for nine carries and 46 yards, before Whitehead closed the drive with a 2-yard run up the middle. Cole Wilson added the extra point to make it 23-12.
The Bobcats nearly answered back on their next drive. This time Bell went with a double pass play as Collett threw back to Chase Woolum in the flat and Woolum pulled up and had Gilbert 10 yards behind the Harlan County secondary, but Gilbert wasn’t able to haul in the pass.
Mills said he called the play after seeing something in the Bear defense.
“We had it open, Hayden just tried to run with it before he caught it,” he said. “I hate it for him. He’s made some big catches for us this season. I know he feels bad, but that’s football.”
Harlan County appeared to be poised to put the game away after another long drive, but a pair of holding penalties pushed them back and they weren’t able to score again.
The Bobcats were still down by 11 when they got ball back at their own 35 with 3:35 to play. They drove down inside the ten before the drive stalled. Gilbert was roughed on a missed 25-yard field goal try to give Bell another set of downs. Three plays later, Collett connected with Chase Woolum on an 8-yard score with 1:19 remaining. The two-point run was short and the Bears led by five.
Bell County’s only hope was an onside kick, but the Bears were able to cover it and then run out the clock.
Mills was encouraged by his team’s performance in the loss.
“I’ve got a lot of belief in these kids and they’ve grown up a lot over these last few weeks,” he said. “Harlan County has got a real good team, they do a nice job up front and they’ve got some big strong backs. We went toe-to-toe with them and I don’t think we’ll see another team like that in the playoffs.”
Harlan County (7-3) returns to action next week in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs against Lincoln County. Bell County (6-4) will will entertain Elizabethtown.
It was senior night at Bell County and the Bobcats honored seniors Jake Barton, Ben Collett, Cody Griffin, Andrew Harris, Shane Lawson, Josh Miracle and Justin Warwick before the game.
“This group has been overshadowed a little bit because we’ve had some big classes the last couple of years. What stands out about these young men is their character. They come to school every day, they work hard and they’re willing to learn,” Mills said. “I’m very proud of this group and I’m glad to be their coach. I’m glad we’ve got at least one more game together here on Log Mountain.”
— — —
BC — Gilbert 25 pass from P. Collett
HC — Whitehead 45 run (Massey run)
BC — Warwick 97 kickoff return (run failed)
HC — Massey 9 run (Bailey run)
HC — Whitehead 1 run (Wilson kick)
BC — Woolum 7 pass from P. Collett (run failed)