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PREP FOOTBALL: John Hardin cruises past Henry Clay (8/21)

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By Chuck Jones

The John Hardin Bulldogs heard the entire preseason about how difficult their schedule was this season and how they wouldn’t do as well.

The Bulldogs took that as a challenge and they wanted to issue a statement, and unfortunately for the Lexington Henry Clay Blue Devils, it came at their expense.

John Hardin scored on its first six possessions as the Bulldogs hammered Henry Clay, 56-6 on Friday night in the Don Franklin Bowl at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia.

“We had heard John Hardin is not going to win this year because of the schedule and we got tired of hearing it,” John Hardin senior halfback Jeremy Harness said. “We wanted to come out and make a statement. We’re still the same John Hardin football team.”

It was John Hardin’s 10th consecutive victory in a season opener and it was the team’s 23rd straight regular-season win. Although this was supposed to be their toughest test to start the season, the 50-point margin of victory was John Hardin’s largest in a season opener despite going against the highly regarded Class 6-A Blue Devils.

“I’m surprised,” John Hardin coach Mark Brown said. “I came in thinking it was going to be a dogfight. We played well tonight. Our offense looked good and defense shut them down to give us the ball in good field position.”

Brown wasn’t the only one left with a surprised feeling. The Blue Devils were left feeling shell-shocked by the outcome as they lost their season opener for the second consecutive year. They played without star Vinnie Miller, who has committed to Cincinnati, and several other starters.

“They have outstanding running backs,” Henry Clay coach Sam Simpson said. “They have a good quarterback. They are a really fine football team. I’m not surprised by how well they played. We knew they were good. But I’m surprised by how poorly we played.”

The Bulldogs completely dominated Henry Clay. They outgained the Blue Devils, 558-42. Henry Clay managed only 4 yards of total offense and just one down in the first half. The Blue Devils only crossed midfield once and that was on David George’s 61-yard scoring run.

It was a strong showing for a John Hardin defense which had plenty of question marks entering the season after losing stars Jeff Richard, Matt Linton, Damien Biggs and Anthony Wright. But the Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat as new standouts emerged.

“We played with a lot of heart,” John Hardin junior linebacker Dominick Brown said. “We did what we did well. We knew what to expect from them and we did what we had to do to win. We knew who we had to key on. We just have to keep getting better throughout the year.”

John Hardin’s offense seemed like a one-man show as Harness put on quite a show with his dazzling moves and ability to break tackles. Harness rushed for a school-record 306 yards on 11 carries. He had scoring runs of 34, 53, 33 and 39 yards and added a conversion.

He broke Alan Dean’s mark of 301 yards against South Oldham in 2005.

“It feels good to get the record but it had nothing to do with me,” Harness said. “It was all the line. They did a great job blocking. It’s easy to run when you have big men like that in front of you.”

The line of center Maurice Keys, guards Patrick Crowe and Chris Doss and tackles Blake Cordell and Hunter Holloway opened up hole after hole as John Hardin had only one play result in negative yardage in the first half and 13 of its 24 plays went for 13 or more yards.

“We were able to control the game,” Holloway said. “We controlled the way we moved the ball and the speed of the game. When they came at us, we came harder.”

Not only did John Hardin control the offensive line, its defensive line did the same. Tackles Matt Elam and Meldin Mabini were in the backfield most of the night, making life miserable for Henry Clay.

“Controlling the line of scrimmage was big for us,” said Crowe, who also plays defensive end. “We knew what we were doing and we came out did what we needed to. The game plan was excellent.”

This was a completely one-sided affair from the start.

After receiving the opening kickoff, John Hardin needed only three plays to find the end zone. Senior halfback Quensie Brown ripped off a 32-yard run, and a play later, Harness broke loose for a 34-yard touchdown.

Brown scored on a 14-yard run on John Hardin’s next possession, running over a Henry Clay defender near the goal line, and Harness raced 53 yards for a touchdown to give John Hardin a 21-0 lead that swelled to 42-0 at halftime.

“We thought it was going to be close,” Cordell said. “I kept telling everyone it would be a close game, but after the first play, I knew we had it if we kept doing our thing. We wanted to come out and make a big statement. I think we did that.”

Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759