Harlan County running back Jake Middleton looked exhausted, but he said he was "just a little winded."
Middleton had just finished a long, hot Saturday afternoon leading the Black Bears to a 65-54 victory over Tates Creek in the iHigh Fayette County Football Frenzy.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior carried 42 times for 334 yards and six touchdowns. His last score was a 48-yard run in the closing seconds that finally shut the door on the Commodores.
"We were going to run out the clock, but I saw an open lane and just took it," he said.
It was the end of a wild three-plus hours of football at Bryan Station.
The teams combined for 952 yards, 17 touchdowns and 30 penalties.
"I never expected this kind of shootout," Harlan County Coach Tom Larkey said. "I didn't think we'd score that many, and I sure didn't think we've give up that many."
Harlan County, with a huge size advantage on the offensive line, rushed for 532 yards. It attempted and completed one pass for three yards.
"We gave up about 100 pounds a man across the front line, and they took advantage of it," Tates Creek Coach Mike Harmon said.
The Commodores had to go to the air to get the ball to their playmakers in the open field. Sophomore quarterback Graham Gordon completed 15 of 31 passes for 350 yards and five TDs.
Marcus Wilkerson and Dennis Oxendine each had four catches for a combined 217 yards and two scores.
Oxendine also ran for 59 yards and two TDs.
Harlan County looked like it was going to bulldoze its way to a rout when it jumped ahead 23-0.
Middleton was the workhorse early. He ran the ball on 14 of his team's first 20 plays. He got Harlan County's first score on a 5-yard run. Tucker Lewis added a 13-yard TD, and Cole Wilson broke loose for a 30-yard TD early in the second quarter.
Tates Creek finally got on the board less than a minute later when Gordon threw a short pass to R.J. Taylor, who turned it into a 78-yard TD.
But the Black Bears answered with another run-only drive capped by Middleton's 3-yard TD to make it 30-6.
Tates Creek raised itself from the dead in the final five minutes of the half, scoring three times and recovering a pair of onside kicks.
Gordon's 38-yard TD pass to Tim York and two-point pass to Wilkerson cut the deficit to 30-14. Oxendine got two quick TDs, one on a 1-yard run and the other on a 58-yard pass.
The Commodores twice took the lead in the second half, but could never get up two scores on Harlan County.
"We couldn't put the dagger in," Harmon said. "But it's a testament to our kids that (Harlan County) had to score that many points and keep swinging, because we weren't going to quit."
Middleon never stopped running, despite hurting his shoulder.
"He's a tough kid," Larkey said. "And he had those two power backs (Lewis and Carson Whitehead) blocking for him, and our big, strong offensive line."
Harlan County 16 14 20 15—65
Tates Creek 0 28 20 6—54
HC—Jake Middleton 5 run (Middleton run). HC—Tucker Lewis 13 run (Middleton run). HC—Cole Wilson 30 run (Wilson kick). TC—R.J. Taylor 78 pass from Graham Gordon (run failed). HC—Middleton 3 run (Wilson kick). TC—Tim York 38 pass from Gordon (Marcus Wilkerson pass from Gordon). TC—Dennis Oxendine 2 run (Casey Grimes pass from Gordon). TC—Oxendine 58 pass from Gordon (pass failed). TC—Oxendine 51 run (Jake Ryan kick). HC—Middleton 1 run Wilson kick). TC—Martavius Carter 79 kickoff return (Jake Ryan kick). HC—Middleton 37 run (kick failed). HC—Middleton 3 run (Wilson kick). TC—Marcus Wilkerson 63 pass from Gordon (Ryan kick). HC—Treyvon Long 3 run (Middleton run). TC—Tavon Dunn 3 pass from Gordon (run failed). HC—Middleton 48 run (Wilson kick).
Records—Harlan County 1-1; Tates Creek 1-1.