VINE GROVE — Bob Lawson, Paul Laurence Dunbar's new football coach, didn't look at the scoreboard to see how his Bulldogs fared in their season opener Saturday.
Host North Hardin spotted Dunbar a 7-0 lead before rolling to a 35-14 victory in the Joe Jaggers Classic at Ray Story Stadium.
Beyond the numbers that added up to defeat, Lawson saw progress as he starts to rebuild Dunbar, which has gone 8-36 the last four years.
"The brightest spot was our kids at times played with the competitive character we're looking for," he said.
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Lawson noted another positive: "Our first defense didn't let North Hardin score in the second half, and we got an offensive touchdown.
"Overall, we made positive steps. We're headed in the right direction."
Dunbar surprised the Trojans by taking the lead early in the second quarter when Blake Martin hit LaQuayle Givens with a 32-yard touchdown pass. Matt Puracchio added the extra point.
The rest of the first half, however, belonged to North Hardin, which rang up three touchdowns to take control.
Dunbar's defense couldn't stop the Trojans' skill people.
North Hardin tied it on a 13-play scoring drive capped by Cornelius McCoy's short TD run.
A bad snap in the shotgun that Martin couldn't handle was snagged out of the air by the Trojans' Adam Hendrix at the Dunbar 30. Four plays later, North Hardin scored on an 11-yard pass from Vincent Davis to Trevino Coney.
The Trojans added another score in the closing seconds of the half when Michael Brunson took a screen pass 23 yards for a TD. He broke three tackles on his way to the end zone.
Davis led the winners, completing 14 of 24 passes for 170 yards and two TDs, and he ran for 39 yards. Coney had nine receptions for 72 yards and one score.
Lawson bemoaned the Bulldogs' lack of strength for their poor tackling.
"We get there but we flat can't tackle," he said.
"We have to be able to physically compete," he said.
"We had 500 weight (room) absences (in the off-season), and North Hardin didn't. That's why they beat us."
Dunbar got solid play from veterans such as Jordan Gatewood, Seth Haga and Tucker Lyles on both sides of the ball.
Gatewood had six catches for 130 yards and a TD, and he also led the defense in tackles.
"We got better as a team tonight; we learned to communicate and compete," Gatewood said.
Martin showed lots of promise in his debut at QB. He completed 17 of 32 passes for 263 yards and two TDs, and was not intercepted.
He took lots of hits, but always got up for the next play.
Besides Gatewood, Givens and Trevor Commodore also showed play-making ability.
"We have some guys with big-play potential, and we've got a quarterback who can get them the ball," Lawson said.
Dunbar, which lost its last seven games last season, will try to end its skid this weekend against Mercer County in the iHigh Fayette County Football Frenzy at Henry Clay.
Paul Dunbar 0 7 0 7—14
North Hardin 0 21 0 14—35
PD—LaQuayle Givens 32 pass from Blake Martin (Matt Puracchio kick). NH—Cornelius McCoy 2 run (Tyler Vanderwedge kick). NH—Trevino Coney 11 pass from Vincent Davis (Vanderwedge kick). NH—Michael Brunson 23 pass from Davis (Vanderwedge kick). NH—Dontrez Dawson 62 fumble return (Vanderwedge kick). NH—McCoy 38 run (Vanderwedge kick). PD—Jordan Gatewood 10 pass from Martin (Puracchio kick).
Records—Dunbar 0-1; North Hardin 1-0