Garrard County will travel to Russell for the first round of the Class AAA playoffs next week, but the Golden Lions get a good tune-up against one of the best running backs in the state this Friday when Damien Harris and Madison Southern come to Lancaster in the teams’ regular-season finale.
Harris, a 5-10, 203-pound sophomore, reportedly already has scholarship offers from Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan. He had rushed for 1,605 yards and 32 touchdowns going into Madison Southern’s 56-0 rout of South Laurel last week, as well as two touchdown catches.
“Damien Harris sure looks to be the real deal on film. Certainly very impressive for a 15-year-old kid. Hard to fathom that he's only six years older than my son,” Garrard coach Mark Scenters said. “His size and speed make him and (Kentayvous) Hopkins from Bourbon (County) easily the best two backs that we've faced this year.
“Harris' speed is very notable on film. He looks to be running away from people as the play progresses. He has a great burst, but the top-end speed is where he really breaks his long runs.”
Madison Southern (6-3) is averaging 41 points per game and giving up just 19 points per game.
Scenters said there is “no question” Garrard has to contain Harris, but he is impressed with the Eagles’ other weapons as well.
“Madison Southern has been doing a real nice job of running complimentary plays off of the plays where Harris usually gets the ball,” he said.
Going into the South Laurel game, quarterback Adan Simpson had thrown for 610 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. Halfback/wingback West Proctor had 400 rushing yards, while wide receivers Devante Linville had caught 12 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown and John Williams had 15 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown.
“They have a tough offensive combination, but Harris is the pin that it all centers around,” Scenters said.
Garrard (5-4)¿is averaging 27 points and 330 yards of offense per game and allowing 15 points and 225 yards per game.
Quarterback Billy Abney has thrown for 814 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions, and has 236 yards rushing with four touchdowns.
Noah Williams has 953 yards rushing with six touchdowns. Garrett Caudill has rushed for 238 yards and five touchdowns and has caught 14 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Caudill also leads the team with 65 tackles, while J.T. Lyon has a team-high three interceptions.
This a matchup that can benefit this team going into the playoffs, Scenters said.
“I think this week will be a very good measuring stick to see how much improvement we've made since earlier in the season facing teams like Bourbon and Lincoln,” he said. “The great thing about this week is we get the opportunity to play a very good opponent and prepare for the playoffs, an opportunity where if we can pull out a win, it will guarantee our program a winning record for the season, an opportunity (to)¿test ourselves against a quality 5A opponent.
“I think the last few weeks have done a lot to help us build momentum heading into the postseason. Now we can have a tune-up game against a very good 5A opponent to try and get as sharp as possible heading into the playoffs.”
Mercer County (5-4) at Paul Dunbar (3-6)
Mercer coach Chris Pardue said the season finale at Dunbar is a chance for the Titans to wash the taste of last week’s blowout loss to Boyle County out of their mouths.
“That was a great learning experience for us, you might say. They were ready to get back to work,” Pardue said. “When we watched the film on Sunday, we better understood the things we needed to do and work on in practice. And we’ve had good practices.”
But the game is also important in terms of where the program is, the Mercer coach said.
“I told the kids I think this is the most important game we’ve had all year. Because what (a win) does is, is guarantees a winning season,” Pardue said. “Since the consolidation (with Harrodsburg in 2006), the 2006 (championship)¿team is the only team with a winning record. So a win this week guarantees us that, and that’s a huge step for our program.”
The Titans will be facing a Dunbar team coming off a 68-6 loss to Scott County. The Bulldogs are averaging just 17 points and allowing 37 points per game.
Dunbar changed quarterbacks three weeks ago, when former mascot Trent Bauer suited up and led the Bulldogs to a 22-19 win over Henry Clay two weeks ago before humbled by Scott. Bauer had thrown for 226 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions going into the Scott game. Pardue said Bauer makes Dunbar’s passing game better and gives the Bulldogs more balance.
“He’s got a quick release, so he has improved the passing game tremendously because he gets the ball out quick and gets the ball to his skill kids and get them in the open field so they can make plays,” Pardue said. “In their early games, they struggled in the passing game. They’ve always had kids than can run the ball. They’re definitely more balanced. And he is tough to pressure because he has such a quick release.”
Running backs Antwan Williams had carried for 342 yards and two touchdowns and Darien Hardaway had 236 yards and a touchdown going into last week. Taylor Smith had a team-high 24 catches for 583 yards and eight touchdowns.
Mercer is averaging 33 points and 381 yards per game and is giving up 30 points per game.
James Johnson has rushed for 1,241 yards and 23 touchdowns, Darion Lewis has 335 rushing yards and two touchdowns and has thrown for 242 yards and two touchdowns, and Drew Davis has thrown for 671 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions. Russell Sims has 17 catches for 399 yards and three touchdowns.
Mercer opens the Class AAAA playoffs at Knox Central next week, and Pardue said the Titans need to enter the postseason on a high noe.
“We have talked about to be able to make a run in the playoffs, we have to get better week after week after week,” he said. “We have to get back on track this week. A win gives us a much better opportunity to have a chance to win in the playoffs next week.
“If we’re not intense and don’t play well, we could struggle next week in the playoffs. I told the kids this game coming can show the true character of the program. Can our leaders help us bounce back and get us where we need to be, or are we going to take a step back?”