On Friday, the ongoing rivalry between Middlesboro and Bell County will continue. Since the series between the two teams resumed in 2011, the Yellow Jackets and Bobcats are tied 2-2. Last year, Middlesboro walked away with a 17-14 victory.
Last season proved to be a defensive struggle as both teams were held to two touchdowns. Middlesboro managed to score on a touchdown reception from Jake Brock and a fumble recovery from Tyler Yoakum.
Bell County scored on a Cole Frazier touchdown reception and a rushing touchdown from Treyton Humfleet. A field goal from Tanner Hoskins sealed the victory for Middlesboro.
With the Yellow Jackets replacing a large amount of seniors, the Bobcats will look to take a 3-2 lead in the renewed series. Middlesboro is looking for their third straight victory against Bell County.
The Middlesboro defense will see a familiar face with Peyton Collett returning under center. The four-year starter brings experience to the table for the Bobcats. Last year, he went 4-12 passing with one touchdown. He also added 39 yards rushing on seven attempts.
Collett finished the year off with 925 yards passing and 13 touchdowns on 50 completions. He scored three rushing touchdowns on 28 carries.
When Middlesboro defeated Bell last year, they were led by senior quarterback Major Edwards. This year, Chase Elliott will take over the helm for the Yellow Jackets.
While Elliott watched the majority of the game from the sidelines last year, he started six games by the season’s end. He led the Middlesboro to victories against Somerset and Lynn Camp. He finished the year with 350 yards passing and two touchdowns.
The sophomore quarterback also tallied 434 yards on the ground. Elliott led the team in rushing touchdowns with nine.
Both teams took a significant hit at the skill positions after graduation. The Jackets lost running backs Ryan Pittman and Seth Barton, Brock and multiple other role players on the team. In all, Middlesboro graduated 15 players.
The team will look to seniors Logan Capps and Parker Evans to fill the gaps in the backfield. Earlier in the summer, head coach Zach Massengill said Dylan Pratt may also see some playing time at running back.
In addition to the upperclassmen, the Jackets also have sophomore Michael Carroll and freshman Isiah Williams at running back.
The Middlesboro receiving corps is made up of underclassmen with the exception of junior Austin Lay. While the Jackets are young at the position, Massengill said the receivers have a lot of speed that could cause problems for some teams.
Similar to Middlesboro, Bell lost their leading rusher following the graduation of Austin Caldwell. With that said, the Bobcats return three backs that saw substantial playing time last season.
Humfleet and Chase Woolum each had over 500 yards rushing last season. Humfleet scored nine touchdowns during the year. Woolum found the end zone three times.
Corey Swanner rounds out the returning backs that will likely see a large amount of playing time in the backfield. He rushed for 284 yards and four touchdowns last season.
The Bobcats also lost two of their top targets in the passing game. Brock, would hauled in 190 yards receiving, and Frazier, who added 152 yards receiving, both graduated. Hayden Gilbert is also gone due to graduation.
Issac Muncy and Austin Asher return for Bell County. Both players caught one touchdown a piece last season. Muncy caught two passes for 86 yards, and Asher caught five passes for 78 yards.
The team’s second leading receiver last season was Woolum with 182 yards and five touchdowns on nine receptions.
In the trenches
According to Bobcat head coach Wayne Mills, the offensive line is one of the strengths coming into the year. The team only lost one lineman last year.
Mills said having four of five starters back on the line gives the team confidence because they have played together and know each other. He also said it gives his team a good base to build around.
Middlesboro graduated seven linemen last year. While a large part of the line will be replaced, the team has four seniors at the position including Joey Forman, Deion Cloud, Cody Hurst and Daniel Webb. John Napier and Jesse Hughett are two juniors that could fill the voids as well.
As was the case on offense, the Jackets lost several key elements on defense. The team’s top three tacklers — Pittman (61), Jared Hoskins (71) and Yoakum (91) — are now gone. In addition to that, the team also lost contributors such as Gabe Fuson, Matt Schneider and Leron Gregory.
Seniors Tyler Reid, Daniel Webb and Capps will look to lead the team against the Bell offense. Each player saw playing time against the Bobcats last season. Webb racked up seven tackles, and Schneider totaled six.
Capps recorded a solo tackle of his own.
The Bobcats return their interception leader in Humfleet, who hauled in four interceptions throughout the year. He recorded four tackles against Middlesboro a year ago.
Bell lost a defensive leader in Justin Green as well as a linebacker in Fraizer. The team returns Nathan Collett, who recorded 63 tackles last season, and Kyle Lee. Lee added 68 tackles of his own.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN