The Clay County Tigers (7-3) will square off with the Harlan Black Bears in the opening round of the playoffs on Friday night in Harlan County. The Tigers will be in their second meeting of the season with Harlan County, as the Black Bears previously defeated the Tigers at Clay County 21-7. Harlan is a perennial powerhouse in not just 4A, but mountain football as a whole. The Tigers will undoubtably have their hands full.

Tiger coach Mike Sizemore has saw the sheer size of the Black Bears. He believes the Tigers will have to play their very best to overcome this most recent challenge. “Harlan County is an exceptional high school football team,” he said. “We know we have to play top notch going into this matchup on Friday night. We’ve been solid on both sides of the ball this season, and we are going to need to keep fighting the way we have fought for four quarters over there this Friday.”

To get past the talent of Harlan County along with their deep roster, Clay will have to step up and execute their scheme along with making the necessary plays. “If we have success Friday night it won’t be because of 1, 2, or 3 guys playing well, as it will take the whole team,” says Sizemore. “Any time you see an opponent for a second time, you get to take in that knowledge from the first game. If there was anything you could have done differently, now is the chance to seize that opportunity.”

The Tigers last two games of the season were played in torrential conditions. Heavy rain, cold, and swamp-like mud have hindered their game plan. This week, they play on what many consider to be the nicest field in the state at Harlan, which is turf. Sizemore can open the play sheet and run different schemes than the last two weeks due to that. “I think playing on turf this time of year really broadens what you can do,” he said. “Field conditions being a factor are eliminated. You still have to be tough because it’s cold, but the mud and sliding are out the window.” 

Versatility will be a key factor this week, as the play book opens up so does potential from the athletes. “It allows us to take our best shot a them,” he said. “However, on the flip side, the same can be said for them. It will allow us to get our wide receivers and kids on the perimeter more involved. I think our passing game has been underrated this season due to how much success we have had with our backs, and our offensive line playing extremely well up front. Ethan and our receivers have put together a very solid season throwing the football.”

When I asked coach Sizemore of how to combat the sheer size of Harlan, he says you simply go around it. “There is no getting around how big they are,” he said. “We have to be ready for battle the moment we step off the bus. They are bigger than any high school team in our area right now and possibly the biggest that I have been on the field with. Much like every week though, we have to eliminate big plays and force them to drive the football down the field against us. We need to be relentless, play with maximum effort like we always do, and put ourselves in positions to limit what they can do offensively.”

Kickoff is slated for 7:30PM at Harlan County High School. Get there early for good parking. Good luck, Tigers!

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