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The LaRue County Hawks have a daunting task ahead of them tonight.
Not only will they be on the road for the longest trip they’ve taken for a game this season, but they’ll be playing in what first-year coach Josh Jaggers described as one of the loudest stadiums in the state.
But the Hawks (6-5) insist they aren’t intimidated by facing Bell County (9-2) at 7:30 tonight in the second round of the Class 3-A playoffs.
“They’re a great team. I know they’re going to be tough, but you can’t be intimidated by any team or you’re going to play like that,” said senior fullback Matthew Hornback. “You’ve just got to go out there and try as hard as you can, no matter who you’re playing.”
Jaggers said the Hawks haven’t been intimidated by any team they’ve faced this season, including the likes of top-ranked Louisville Central and Corbin.
“We’re not intimidated,” he said. “Respect them? Sure. But this group isn’t intimidated by anyone. I don’t mean that to sound cocky in any way, but they’re not. Even the games we’ve lost this year, there was no intimidation factor. They’ve realized these teams, while good, they’re 15, 16 and 17-year-old kids just like our guys are. We took that approach against Central and Corbin, and we’re going to take it against Bell County. It’s been a fun ride and we’re going to try and keep it going.”
LaRue County certainly has been on a roll lately.
The Hawks won 3-of-4 games to close the regular season, locking up the No. 2 seed in District 3 in the process. Then, in the first round last week, they rallied to knock off Corbin, 36-16.
LaRue County trailed 10-9 at the half last week, but senior quarterback Gabe Shirley said the Hawks believed they would win.
“We had a nice little talk at halftime,” he said. “We just stayed relaxed. We knew were going to come back, and we did.”
Shirley rushed for two touchdowns, and Hornback and senior Kelton Ford also had second-half touchdowns against Corbin.
LaRue County’s seniors weren’t ready for their careers to end. And they aren’t ready for it to come to a close this week, either.
Given the choice between a long road trip and sitting at home, Hornback said there’s only one option for him.
“It doesn’t matter where we play; I’m going to play hard and I’m sure the rest of the team will,” he said. “I don’t think the atmosphere is going to make too much of a difference. I think we’ll like it a lot. It’s a whole lot better than not being able to go anywhere this week.
“We just need to play with heart. Nobody wants it to end yet.”
The silver lining, Jaggers said, is Bell County is primarily a running team. The Bobcats run anything from the power-I to a single-back offense, which Jaggers said should play to his team’s strengths.
On the flip side, the coach said Bell County features one of the biggest offensive lines the Hawks have seen this season. The Bobcats’ line is anchored by seniors Tan Hudson (6-foot-6, 320 pounds) Hunter Marcum (6-4, 270), Jonathan Burnett (6-3, 230) and Jared Fultz (6-2, 245).
“You hear a lot of people say ‘they average 275 or 280 across the front line,’ and these guys do. They’re massive,” Jaggers said. “They try to road grade you. They line up and come right at you, but they don’t do anything fancy. It’s ‘here we are. Stop us if you can.’
“We can’t go pound-for-pound with these guys and get in pushing contests all night. It’s just physics,” he added. “But we can use our quickness to our advantage. That’s what we’re going to try and do anyway.”
Shirley thinks the Hawks can use their speed – especially with Ford, Hornback and fellow senior Caleb Canter out of the backfield – to their advantage.
They’re going to need every advantage they can get against the Bobcats.
“It’s going to be tough to beat them,” Shirley said. “It’s going to be like a collision. They’re going to try and power it over us, we’re going to try and power it over them. They’re pretty big up front, but we’re pretty fast and strong. We’ve got to keep pushing on offense and keep doing what we’ve been doing.
“We just have to use technique and make sure all the little things are done correctly,” he added. “We don’t want this to end. This run has been fun. It’s pretty special. We’re ready.”
Josh Claywell can be reached at (270) 505-1752 or email@example.com.