(Article by BSN contributor JJ Baker)The Bulldogs will travel over Pine Mountain Friday night to take on the Harlan County Black Bears in what will be only the second time the two schools have met on the gridiron. Last year the Bulldogs used home field advantage and a smothering defense to claim the victory and go up in the series 1-0. Harlan then went on to make it to the 5A state semi-finals where they beaten by eventual 5A state runner-up Madison Southern.
This year the Dogs will be playing at Needham Saylor Field within the confines of the Coal Miner’s Memorial Stadium in what will no doubt be a hostile environment with the Black Bears looking to avenge last years loss. Harlan County will come into the game with a one game advantage over Hazard. Harlan County finished last season (8-6) with an impressive post season run that saw them points away from making their first trip to Kroger Field and their first state final appearance.
The Black Bears made the trip to Ashland last Friday night to take on the Ashland Paul Blazer Tomcats. Harlan struggled with a very fast Tomcat team that saw them go down two quick scores before they could find the end zone themselves. After several drives stalled, the Black Bears eventually fell to the Tomcats 49-6. Hazard will be looking to kick start their season with a win over what will be, as the season progresses, a solid Harlan County team. Hazard’s offense will be led by senior signal caller Bailey Blair who will be looking to add to his career 4,000 yard passing and 36 total touchdowns Friday night. Blair threw for 1953 yards, while also rushing for 707 in the 2017 season.
After losing over a thousand yards of receiving to graduated seniors Braxton Whitaker and Bryson Parks, Blair will be looking for some new receivers to step up this year and claim those yards. The receiving corp will be led by seniors Isaiah Stupart and Andy Baker, as well as Junior Mason Collins, who all saw time last year at those positions. New to the receiving group will be first year senior Kyle Johnson as well as two freshman in Tyson Turner and Andrew “Smiley” Ford. The running back duties will fall on the shoulders of Reece Fletcher (563 rushing yards in 2017) and the leading returning receiver from last year (459 receiving yards in 2017) Skylar Pelfrey. Fletcher filled in the running back duties last year after Mr. Football candidate Corey Smith went down to a season ending injury. Fletcher proved to be a steady ball carrier, getting tough yards when they were needed, even as a sophomore and should be much improved after a year of weights and maturity.
New to the running back position this year will be senior Skylar Pelfrey who raised eyebrows against a strong Belfry defense with hard running and break away speed, all while punishing would be tacklers. The one-two running combination of Fletcher and Pelfrey could be exactly what is needed to soften up defenses and allow Blair to open up the passing game as well. Opening up holes for the running back corps will be a seasoned line that had several members start as underclassmen on the 2016 State Runner Up squad. The man getting the offense started with the snap, will be senior center Kenzie Caudill. The guard positions will be filled by junior Matthew Couch and freshman Kenton Beverly. The tackle positions will be covered by senior Draven Goins and juniors Parker Holbrook and Dalton Strong. When asked some of the keys to containing the Black Bears, Hazard coach Mark Dixon said that he’d like to see his team “play fast and match Harlan’s physicality.”
The Bulldogs will try to slow down the option type offense of the Black Bears with a smothering defense with 11 defenders to the ball on every play. Hazard should be solid on defense, returning several two and three year starters. The line will be made up of two seniors, Ben Adams and Jacob Brashear, who both have started since they were sophomores. New to the D-Line will be Parker Holbrook (Jr), Draven Goins(Sr), Mathew Couch(Jr), Dalton Strong(Jr) and Cameron Caudill(Fr). The middle linebackers are both returning starters in Reece Fletcher and Mason Collins. Both are big bodies that have deceptive speed and arrive violently to the ball with a bulldog mentality. Skylar Pelfrey is the returning outside line backer and will be joined by a rotation of fresh faces in Bryson Sayers(Sr), Ryan Dean(Fr), and Zane Deaton(Fr). The secondary will also have a several returning starters like Andy Baker(Sr), Isaiah Stupart(Sr), and Trajon Campbell(Jr). In addition to the seasoned secondary will be a mix of older and younger new comers and rising players in Kyle Johnson(Sr), Ryan Davidson(So), Caleb Eversole(Jr), Campbell Davis(Jr), and Tyson Turner(Fr) that will be rotating in and competing for more playing time as the season progresses.
After a long winter of weights and several weeks of helmets, shoulder pads, and scrimmages, the Bulldogs finally get to strap the pads on for real this week. This will be a great test for the Dogs and a good gauge for coach Dixon and staff to judge just where his team is early in this 2018 season. Game time will be at 7:30pm on August 24.