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PREP FOOTBALL: John Hardin, Boyle County a clash of second-ranked teams (09/09)

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By Chuck Jones

The John Hardin Bulldogs realize the importance of tonight’s game versus perennial power Boyle County. At the same time, in the grand scheme of things, it’s just another game on a 10-game regular season schedule.

The Bulldogs, who host the Rebels tonight at 7:30, are approaching this game as the most important game because it’s the one at hand. But it’s hard not to have some extra motivation. The Rebels are ranked second in Class 4-A and have won five state championships in the last decade.

“It’s a little of both,” John Hardin senior quarterback Eli Mitchell said. “It’s a big game because you have a team of that talent coming here. So there’s a little more hype. But you have to treat it the same way as we would any other game. You don’t want to make it too big.”

That’s been John Hardin’s mindset this week. The Bulldogs – ranked second in 5-A – aren’t changing how they practice or their routine just because they are playing the back-to-back 4-A state champions.

“You have to treat it as another game,” John Hardin senior guard Patrick Crowe said. “They are the best team we’ll see all year. They are very good. They are pretty big up front, bigger than us across the front. We’re going to just work as hard as we have all year.”

After falling to Fort Thomas Highlands in their opener, the Rebels have won two consecutive games – a 21-0 victory over Allen County-Scottsville and a 49-16 thrashing of Danville. Coach Larry French said this will be a tough task for his evolving team.

“We are replacing a lot of people all over the place,” French said. “We’re working hard and we’re still learning. We’re pleased where we’re at right now. We have to continue to improve. It’s going to be a challenge Friday night. They have speed, size. They have the entire package.”

Like Boyle County, John Hardin has played a challenging schedule. The Bulldogs routed Lexington Henry Clay, won a shootout with Lexington Catholic and then shut out Meade County, where French was a head coach for 15 years. But John Hardin coach Mark Brown said this will be the team’s toughest test to date.

“They are a team that lives off their offensive and defensive fronts,” Brown said. “They make it extremely hard for you because of their size up front. They are so good defensively. None of their linebackers stick out because they are all good. They all make plays. This is the best defense we’ve played by far.”

The Bulldogs, though, counter with one of their best offenses in school history. They are averaging 47 points and 442.7 yards a game. It starts with Mitchell, who has completed 75 percent of his 28 attempts and has yet to throw an interception. He has passed for 420 yards and seven touchdowns.

Senior halfback Jeremy Harness has rushed for 567 yards and seven touchdowns on 27 attempts, while senior halfback Quensie Brown has added 172 yards and five scores on 26 carries.

“They run the ball, they throw the ball, they do everything well,” French said. “They have the right personnel to run the Wing-T. They have the size and speed to run that offense. Their line does an excellent job blocking and their backs do a great job. They know when accelerate through the hole. And their quarterback throws the ball real well and they have nice receivers.”

The Bulldogs will be without their leading receiver – junior Wade Holtsclaw. Holtsclaw has a fracture two inches above his left ankle. Brown said junior Jalen Fleming, who has five catches for 141 yards, and sophomore Patrick Anderson as well as junior Dorian Collins will see time at split end tonight.

“Wade was coming on pretty strong,” Mitchell said. “It’s a big loss for us, but we have other athletes and someone else will step in for him. Someone will step up for us and be ready.”

John Hardin’s defense contained Meade County’s offense, limiting the Green Wave to 125 yards. Brown said it will be a different challenge this week. The Rebels are averaging 245 rushing yards a game. Devan Cox has rushed for 358 yards and three touchdowns, while Zach Hester has gained 278 yards and two scores.

“Anytime you play an offense like that you worry about them controlling the ball,” Brown said. “They’re going to score points. We’re going to have to match them. This game is going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes because in games like this anything can happen.”

Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or at cjones@thenewsenterprise.com