Mountain Lions come back to beat Harlan
Published 8:37 am Tuesday, September 26, 2023
By John Henson
PINEVILLE — In the 100-plus years since Harlan and Pineville started playing each other in football, there have been dozens of great players on both sides who had big nights in the series now called the Battle of U.S. 119.
Not many, however, could top the performance of Pineville sophomore Landon Robbins on Friday night as he brought the Mountain Lions back from a 14-point halftime deficit with 20 unanswered points in the second half for a 32-26 victory. Robbins reached the end zone four times, two through the air, one on the ground and another with an interception.
“He’s a special player. When you need something, you can depend on him to make a play,” said Pineviille coach Allen Harris as the Lions ended a five-game losing streak to open the season.
“The Robbins kid is really good. Our entire plan was focused on him, and he made some plays,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said after watching a lead slowly slip away in the second half to send the Dragons to third fifth straight loss.
Robbins scored on a 57-yard pass from Sawyer Thompson in the first quarter after the Dragons had scored the first 14 points. He added a 51-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, then took back a Baylor Varner pass 95 yards in the third quarter to pull the Lions within two just when it seemed Harlan was about to put the game out of reach. Robbins completed the comeback when he caught a Thompson pass across the middle in the final minute and went in for a 20-yard touchdown.
“We made some adjustments at halftime, and we did pick up some things they were doing,” Harris said of the Lions’ three interceptions. “We shot ourselves in the foot in the first half and dropped some balls. I felt if we could come out and execute the second half we could win the game. We made some adjustments at halftime, and we told the kids they had to go out there and stay focused and run the plays and good things would happen.”
Harlan (1-5 overall, 0-1, district) rolled up 272 yards on the ground, led by Darius Akal with 179 yards on 26 carries and Sedrick Washington with 79 yards on 11 carries.
“Our guys made some plays,” Perry said. “I thought our offensive line played a lot better, and Darius and Sedirick both ran the ball really hard.”
Varner, a standout baseball pitcher who joined the football team recently, started at quarterback in his first high school game. He got off to a great start, completing four of four passes in the first quarter, but finished with three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. Varner replaced Donovan Montanaro, who moved to receiver and had two touchdown catches after the team went through what Perry described as “internal issues” during the week.
“We did play better for three quarters and we’ve had a lot going on this week. To play as well as we did is amazing to be honest,” Perry said. “We didn’t find a way to win it. We just have to finish the deal and we didn’t. We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times. I felt we dominated the game the first half and played pretty good in the third quarter, but you have to finish, and we didn’t.
“Baylor did a good job for his first game. We kind of threw him into the fire. We had some internal issues. We dealt with it and we’re moving on. You have to take the good with the bad. He has to throw the ball a little quicker, but he did fine. We protected well until the fourth quarter.”
After stopping the Lions on downs on the opening series, the Dragons made the first big play of the game on special teams by blocking a punt that Brayden Doan recovered on the Pineville 1. It took four tries, but the Dragons scored when Varner went in from the 1 on fourth down with 8:31 left in the opening period. Akal went in for the two-point conversion.
Varner found a wide open Montanaro for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 5:12 left in the first quarter to push the lead to 14-0.
Robbins put the Lions on the board with his first big play of the night as he took a short pass from Thompson and raced 52 yards down the sideline to cut the deficit to 14-6 with 2:39 to play in the first quarter.
The teams exchanged big plays in the third quarter as Thompson took back an interception 35 yards for a score followed by a 61-yard run by Akal on the next offensive play.
Varner and Montanaro teamed up again with 1:47 left in the half, this time on a 39-yard TD pass to extend Harlan’s lead to 26-12 at half-time.
Robbins pulled the Lions within eight when he went 51 yards for a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half.
Harlan appeared ready to answer after a long kickoff return by Jonah Sharp gave the Dragons the ball on the Pineville 28. Washington picked up a first down to the 10, but Robbins stepped in front of a Varner pass and took it back 95 yards with 5:55 left in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 26-24.
The Dragons had two drives inside Pineville territory as Akal and Washington each found success on the ground before penalties and mistakes ended both threats.
Pineville got the ball back on its 28 with 3:39 left to start its winning nine-play drive that featured a personal foul penalty, when Robbins may have scored if not for having his helmet stripped off on a run, which stopped the play by rule. A pass interference penalty gave the Lions the ball on the 20 to set up the winning Thompson to Robbins pass two plays later. Thompson teamed with Zakary Brown for the two-point conversion.
Kaiden Robbins picked off a pass by Varner near midfield to end the final Harlan drive.
Harlan plays host to Middlesboro on Friday. Pineville (1-5 overall, 1-0 district) will travel to Williamsburg on Friday.
Harlan 14-1-0-0 — 26
Pineville 6-6-12-8 — 32
H — Varner 1 run (Akal run)
H — D. Montanaro 35 pass from Varner (run failed)
P — L. Robbins 57 pass from Thompson (run failed)
P — Thomas 35 interception return (run failed)
H — Akal 61 run (run failed)
H — D. Montanaro 38 pass from Varner (pass failed)
P — L. Robbins 51 run (pass failed)
P — L. Robbins 95 interception return (pass failed)
P — L. Robbins 20 pass from Thompson (Brown pass from Thompson)
First downs 17 13
Rushes-Yds 45-272 22-90
Passing 86 191
Comp-Att-Int 5-11-3 11-25-1
Punts 0-0 4-36
Fumbles 3-1 5-1
Penalties 10-110 6-65
RUSHING—Harlan, Akal 26-179, Washington 11-79, Varner 7-14, Vick 1-4. Pineville, L. Robbins 18-90, K. Robbins 3-0, Thompson 1-0.
PASSING — Harlan, Varner 5-11-3-86. Pineville, Thompson 11-25-1-191.
RECEIVING — Harlan, D. Montanaro 2-73, Clem 2-11, Doan 1-2. Pineville, L. Robbins 6-94, K. Robbins 3-53, Brown 1-40, Caldwell 1-4.