AAA  Sep. 22, 2016 11:59 PM ET
Off to a slow start
Anthony Cloud, Middlesboro Daily News, Ky. (TNS)
Tribune Content Agency, LLC
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This season has been a forgetful one for high school football fans inside Bell County. Entering the midway point of the year, no local team has a winning record with the Bobcats being the only team with more than one win on their resume.

There have been several close games early in the year with Middlesboro narrowly missing out on a victory over Paris last week, and Pineville losing nailbitters against the Yellow Jackets and Greyhounds.

Bell County lost a heartbreaker a week ago to Whitley County resulting in a 16-year winning streak being snapped. Other than that, the Bobcats have either won by an average of 17.5 points or lost by an average of 23 points.

With Middlesboro being the only team that hasn’t had a bye week — theirs comes next week — each team inside the county is on the downhill portion of their schedule with only five games remaining.

The previous games will do very little to determine placement in the district, outside of a potential three-way tie. Here are what each team has to look forward to heading into the district portion of their schedule:

Bell County

The Bobcats haven’t looked like the team that advanced to the regional championship game a year ago. The team’s 2-3 start is the worst since the 2013 season — when the team started 3-2 and went on to finish 7-5 with an second round loss to Louisville Central in the playoffs.

Injuries have plagued the relatively young team. During the first game of the year, they lost standout running back Treyton Humfleet to a knee injury. Leading defender Marcus Collins has been limited in action since the Mercer County game, and starting quarterback Issac Collett did not play a snap against Whitley County even though he was in uniform.

The injuries have forced Bell to make adjustments to compensate. Austin Asher and Nathan Collett have carried the load at running back, while Jordan Wombles was moved from nose guard to safety to fill in for Humfleet. Antonio Zachary started at quarterback for Issac Collett.

With a bye week on the horizon, Bell County will have time to sort out any remaining injury issues that have hurt the team to this point. The Bobcats will began district play on Sept. 30 against Casey County.

Even with a 2-3 record, Bell County is still in a position to finish at least second in District 8. The quest will be no easy task this year.

Casey County has had a program resurgence this season with a 4-0 start and find themselves ranked No.8 in the Class 3A AP Poll. Despite losing 47-12 to the Bobcats last year, they will be no pushover.

Bell County then squares off against Campbell County, Tennessee before returning to district-play against rival Corbin. The Redhounds are considered the odds-on favorite to repeat as not only district champions but regional champions as well.

Corbin ranks second behind Belfry in the Class 3A polls and started the season with a 5-0 record. Those wins have come against No. 12 Whitley County, Louisville Central, Clay County, No. 4 Danville and No. 9 Southwestern.

Jackson County (1-4) doesn’t pose a big threat to the Bobcats in Bell’s final district game of the year. The Bobcats finish the regular season against a struggling Harlan County team.

Projected finish: 5-5, 2-1 district

Middlesboro

The Yellow Jackets find themselves in a little better position than they were in a year ago. A win against Pineville on Sept. 2 gave the team their first win of the season just three games into the year. The team pushed Paris to the limit last week in what would be a heartbreaking loss to the Greyhounds, 28-25.

With a new transfer quarterback and several new bodies on both sides of the ball, Middlesboro looked poised to improve this year. While the record doesn’t reflect it, the Jackets have improved in several facets of the game.

With that said, injuries on offense has created issues for Middlesboro. Chase Elliott missed two games this year because of injury, and sophomore running back Isiah Williams — who leads the team in rushing — also missed two games.

Owen McWilliams has been used in the backfield in the absence of both players, tallying 136 yards through this point of the season. Ethan Ellison has also scrambled for 192 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Stopping the running game has hindered the team thus far. The Jacket defense has allowed 1,055 yards rushing through their first five games of the season.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Middlesboro in their final five games. The Jackets will head to Harlan on Friday in an attempt to repeat last year’s outcome — when the team won their first game of the 2015 campaign.

After a battle with the Green Dragons, Middlesboro enters district-play following a bye week. District 7 is arguably one of the most grueling districts in Class 2A with all three opponents ranking inside the top 10.

Lexington Christian will be the first test when the two teams battle on Oct. 7. The No. 2 Eagles are ranked just behind perennial powerhouse Mayfield and have easily defeated all five of their opponents outside of a 10-point victory over Williamsburg in their season debut.

Next up for the Jackets is No. 4 Danville on Oct. 14. The Admirals have defeated the likes of Southwestern and Boyle County thus far this year. They defeated LaRue County in their season-opener. The only team Danville has lost to thus far is 3A powerhouse Corbin.

Middlesboro’s final district test will come on Oct. 21 when they host No. 9 Somerset. The Briar Jumpers had a little bit easier road to get their ranking atop the AP poll, but they still had to defeat a Hazard team that is notorious for being good. Their lone defeat came at the hands of Beechwood.

The Jackets end the regular season with a showdown against Williamsburg.

Projected finish: 3-7, 0-3 district

Pineville

The Mountain Lions looked like one of the strongest teams in the county heading into the season. Returning nearly all of their key players, it was hard to imagine that Pineville would be sitting with a 1-3 record just shy of the halfway point of the season.

The Mountain Lions lost two of their games in the closing moments. A last second touchdown drive by Middlesboro on Sept. 2 prevented Pineville from walking away with their second victory of the year. One week later, without head coach Bart Elam and go-to receiver Will Adams, the Mountain Lions lost a heartbreaker to Paris by five points.

Injures haven’t been an issue for Pineville with only Adams, Cole Gent and JJ Miracle missing games.

Tucker Woolum has been the catalyst that has driven the team thus far. He has rushed for 212 yards and four touchdowns on the ground while throwing for 710 yards and seven touchdowns on 48 completions.

Adams, Nike Mason and Trent Lefevers have been key targets through the air. Adams and Mason have broken the 200-yard mark on the year with 225 and 205 yards, respectively. Lefevers has 105 yards on four catches.

Lawrence Simpson leads the rushing attack with 212 yards.

Despite a 1-3 start, Pineville still has a fairly good chance to finish the season with a strong record and potentially a district championship. The Mountain Lions will square off against Cumberland Gap, Tennessee on Friday before traveling to McCreary Central next week.

Pineville will enter district play on Oct. 7 against Lynn Camp. The Wildcats started the season with a 35-34 loss to Perry County Central, but they have gotten progressively better with each passing week. They now sit at 4-1 and are ranked 12th in Class 1A.

The Mountain Lions then travel to Williamsburg on Oct. 14. The Yellow Jackets have also only won one game to this point but have squared off against the likes of Lexington Christian, Somerset and Paintsville.

On Oct. 21, Pineville will travel to play rival Harlan. The Green Dragons have gotten off to a strong start this year with their only loss coming against Bracken County on Sept. 10. Similar to last year, No.9 Harlan finds themselves ranked in the top 10 in Class 1A. Last year, Pineville defeated the Green Dragons to cause a three-way tie in District 7.

The Mountain Lions finish the year with a home game against Jenkins on Oct. 28.

Projected finish: 6-4, 2-1 district

Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN

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©2016 the Middlesboro Daily News (Middlesboro, Ky.)

Visit the Middlesboro Daily News (Middlesboro, Ky.) at www.middlesborodailynews.com

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