Middlesboro, Bell Co. clash in heated rivalry

Published 10:55 am Thursday, August 16, 2018

Arguably one of the most heated rivalries in the tri-state area, Middlesboro and Bell County will open the season battling each other on Friday. The game will give both teams an opportunity to get the heated rivalry out of the way early during the season.

Since the series was renewed in 2011, the Bobcats have had an advantage winning five of the seven meeting. The only two games that the Jackets have won were in 2013 and 2014 — head coach Zach Massengill’s first year at Middlesboro.

Bell County has dominated the series the past three years winning by a combined score of 117-46. Last year, the Bobcats handed Middlesboro a 42-21 defeat in Dudley Hilton’s re-debut.

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“Coach (Dudley) Hilton has always got good football teams. They are getting better and better,” said Massengill. “I went and watched them (during the gridorama). Their backfield looks really good. They’re solid up front. Their defense is swarming the ball. We’ve got a tough task ahead of us. We’re going to have to play a lot more physical than we did (against Clay). Offensively, we have to take advantage of our opportunities because they’re going to try to keep the football away from us.”

Bell County (0-0)

The Bobcats return the majority of their key players that made last year’s game a success. Both Tanner Asher and Colby Frazier return for Bell County — two players that produced the majority of the yards during last year’s outing. Asher tallied 138 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries during last season’s game, while Frazier racked up 82 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.

Two other running backs that posed a threat to the Jackets also return in Keagen Lefevers (six carries, 22 yards and one touchdown) and Tyson Thomas (eight carries, 30 yards).

The passing game will be set up a little differently for the Bobcats this year. Issac Collett led the team from behind center a year ago going 4-for-5 with 90 yards and a touchdown. This year, Collett will move to tight end with Bearden-transfer London Stephney taking over quarterback duties.

Regardless of who lines up behind center, Jason Jones will have his eye on a big game. The junior receiver hauled in three catches for 61 yards and a touchdown last year.

The only player gone from last year’s game that wreaked havoc for the Jackets is defensive lineman Nick Caldwell — who registered a team-high 13 tackles last season.

Middlesboro (0-0)

The Jackets will be entering Friday’s game looking to end a three-year losing skid to Bell County. The Bobcats will not be battling the same Middlesboro team that they saw in the past. Last year, the Jackets were led by several players that either graduated or are no longer on the team.

Anthony Jackson was the driving force that kept Middlesboro in the game for well over a half a year ago. The then-senior tallied 98 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries. His lone completion was a 29-yard touchdown to fellow senior Corey Hairston.

This year, the Jackets will be led by a different quarterback in senior Rhyan Rogers — whose last regular season game was against Bell County after suffering a season-ending injury during last year’s game. During last week’s SEKC game against Clay County, Rogers showcased his running abilities tallying over 80 yards on the ground.

The backfield will also offer new beginnings for Middlesboro — who was led a year ago by Isiah Williams’ 75 yards and one touchdown. The freshman-sophomore combo of Seth Huff and Caleb Bogonko will lead the way in the backfield. Trey Watkins and Alex Mason will line up on the wings to provide a burst of speed off the edge.

One player that will remember last year’s game all too well is linebacker Sebastian Wagoner. During last season’s game, the senior was all over the field en route to a game-high 20 tackles. It is likely that he will be head hunting again this year.