By DOUG EADS, CJ Correspondent
The Pulaski County Maroons will probably be in their ‘road whites’ tonight as they venture into the mountains of eastern Kentucky, but Johnny Hines’ club might as well don uniforms that have a red cape and a giant red ‘S’ on the front.
You see for Pulaski County, tonight the Maroons go back to face their own version of Kryptonite.
That’s right, it’s PC verses Harlan County — round three, and if the first two post-season meetings are an indication of things to come, then Hines and crew may be in trouble this evening unless the Maroons can come up with a Superman-like performance.
Pulaski County has seen Harlan County end its football season over the past two years, and the Black Bears have made it look rather easy in doing it.
PC came into the 2010 season as the defending regional champions, and in the first game that season in The Ray Correll Bowl, Hines and company destroyed Harlan County at Clark Field by a final tally of 40-7.
However, in the second meeting in 2010 at Harlan County in the regional championship game, it was the Black Bears ending PC’s season by a 35-21 margin in an upset, denying Hines’ club an opportunity of a repeat as a regional champion.
Last season — a very disappointing one by Maroon standards — the 3-7 Maroons opened the post season on the road at Harlan County, and were blanked by a 20-0 margin.
So tonight, the Maroons make the trek to the mountains of eastern Kentucky yet again, however this time around Pulaski County will be playing in Harlan County’s new stadium complete with a brand new turf field.
So, will the fact tonight’s game will be at a different venue in Harlan County change PC’s fortunes in this rivalry?
Hines for one is hopeful of that very fact.
“We’re just trying to focus on this game and not worry about what has happened in the past, and see if we can go over there and pull off another miracle,” stated the PC coach.
For the Maroons to pull off that miracle Hines referred to, the formula for PC is a relative easy one.
The Pulaski County defense has passed almost every test that’s been set before it this season, and the Maroons ‘D’ will once again be tested this evening by a vaunted Harlan County rushing attack.
To get to the semi state round next week and bring home a second regional title in the past four years, the Maroons must be able to slow down the Black Bears main man in the back field — Jake Middleton.
Middleton has shredded opposing defenses this season, rushing for a team-high 1,993 yards and 28 touchdowns — good enough for an average of 166 yards per contest on the ground.
In last week’s 28-13 win over Whitley County, Hines stated before that contest that to have any chance to get a win over the Colonels, the Maroons would have to find a way to slow down the Colonels three-headed rushing attack in Austin Ysidro, Zack Mills, and Boston Bryant.
For the most part, it was mission accomplished for the Maroons, as PC’s ‘D’ came up big at crunch time, more than holding its own against Whitley County’s ground game.
Tonight, the mission will be the same — Pulaski County must find a way to slow down Middleton and a Harlan County rushing attack that has seen 23 different ball carriers run the football this season.
“When you play Harlan County and a Tom Larkey-coached team, number one you’ve got to stop their power running game,” Hines pointed out.
“If we can’t do that we’re in for a long night,” Hines added. “When we played them in The Correll Bowl in 2010, we stuffed it and we forced them to punt the ball because they faced third and long all night in that game. At the end of the season in 2010 in that championship game, they were able to have some success in that power running game. They had third and two all night and kept the ball away from us and kept getting first downs all night. And as a result of that, they were able to get the win over us that night.”
On the flip side, the Maroons have been able to cause opposing defenses some problems as well for much of the season, led by quarterback Riley Hall and company.
Tyler Goins has enjoyed a tremendous senior season rushing for a team-best 1,222 yards with 15 touchdowns, while Riley Hall has played with the poise and cunning of a wily veteran.
Hall — a freshman — has thrown for 2,268 yards this season, completing 213 of 337 pass attempts to go along with 21 touchdowns.
For the Maroons to have any shot tonight, not only does the PC defense have to come up big, but the Pulaski offense must continue to play like it has over the course of the season.
For that to happen, the Maroons must be able to come up with a win on the road tonight — a place PC hasn’t been to for four weeks, thanks to the regular season-finale at PC Field against Christian County, as well as the two playoff wins at home over Letcher County Central and Whitley County.
Hines says there will be no intimidation experienced by his club when it gets off the bus tonight.
“Most of the guys that we have on this team have played Harlan County at Harlan County before,” said the PC coach.
“Even though it’s been at the old Cawood stadium and not at the big new stadium where we will be playing this game, we’ve been in that atmosphere before so we know what to expect and we will not be shocked in this game,” Hines added.
For the past two seasons, the Maroons playoff hopes have been dashed, or dare we say ‘killed’ at Harlan County by the Black Bears.
So, with apologies to Brad Paisley, can the Maroons leave Harlan County alive after this game coach Hines?
And, by the way one more thing coach — how many times this week have you, your coaching staff, and the PC football team listened to Paisley’s song, ‘You’ll never leave Harlan County alive?’
“You can’t count that high,” stated Hines with a laugh. “We’ve played it constantly this week during practice, all of our kids have it on their phones and their iPod’s, and I do too.”
“We love it — we’re all Brad Paisley fans up here,” Hines added. “That song just adds to the atmosphere of the game, and it’s a great atmosphere at Harlan County. You’ve got to take you hat off to Harlan County fans, because it’s just great. For visiting teams, it can be intimidating and you’ve got to put all that stuff to the side, and realize it’s just a football game and you’ve got to go out there and play. We have to go play the best game that we’ve played all year, and if we get beat because Harlan County is better than us, then we’ll shake their hand. But you know what, if we play the best game that we’ve played all year, then we just might pull another one off.”
Kickoff for tonight’s PC-Harlan County game is slated to get underway at 7:30 p.m.
If you can’t make it to the ballgame, listen to play-by-play action from Mike Kerr, Paul Wright and Dewayne Clark on 97.1 FM. Updates from the game, as well as other local games, will be posted on the Commonwealth Journal’s Facebook page and on the Twitter handle, @cjsportseditor.