By Les Dixon / Sports Editor
It’s rare when the Harlan County Black Bears lose a game. It’s even more rare when Tom Larkey’s squad loses a game at home.
Both of the above happened last week when Belfry ventured into Harlan and handed the Black Bears a 21-12 loss.
But there is something even more rare that has never happened with the Harlan County football program since it started in 2008 — the Black Bears have never lost consecutive games — ever.
That’s what Knox Central is up against today when they pay a visit to Harlan County.
The Panthers will enter the game with an unbeaten 3-0 record, and they also came away with a win against the Black Bears last season.
Larkey’s squad got some revenge in an SEKC pre-season scrimmage about a month ago when the Black Bears handed the Panthers a 36-7 loss, but Knox Central coach Scott Russell believes things could be different in today’s contest.
“I feel like we are a much-improved team than when we faced them in the scrimmage,” he said. “We had a lot of players out with injuries and we’ll be healthy this time around.
“Make no mistake, though, they are a good team and our kids know it’s going to be a very tough game,” he added. “The big thing is that we’re going to have to go out there and compete. We’ve got to control the clock because if we don’t, they’ll do it to us and we’ll be in trouble.”
The Black Bears offensive attack is averaging 283 yards per game on the ground, and is led by a three-headed threat of tailback Carson Whitehead, fullback Zach Chitwood and quarterback Scotty Bailey.
Whitehead leads the team with 268 rushing yards and four touchdowns while Chitwood has 92 yards on the ground, and Bailey has scrambled for 147 yards and two TDs.
“They have a very good offense,” Russell said. “We know they’re going to run it at us, and we’re going to have to find a way to stop them.”
Harlan County is just as good on defense.
The Black Bears limited their opponents to negative yards rushing during their first two wins of the season before seeing Belfry run for more than 300 yards on the ground last week.
Larkey will have to find a way to contain Knox Central tailback Jonathan Gist and quarterback Matt Barger, who are threats running with the ball.
Gist has ran for 595 yards this season and four touchdowns while Barger, who started his first game behind center last week, ran for more than 70 yards on the ground during last week’s win over Prestonsburg.
“We’re going to give this our best shot,” Russell said. “Like I said, we’ve got to control the clock. We’re going with Matthew again at quarterback and right now, we believe he’s the guy. Casey (Diamond) has a great arm and has done a great job for us and Matthew is a great runner. If you put both together, we’d have the perfect quarterback.
“We know we’ve got to play a near-perfect game to win, and we also know we’ve got to avoid making silly penalties,” he added. “If we do that, I believe we’ve got a good shot.”