Sam Harp isn’t crazy about coaching against one of his best friends, but that’s just what the Danville coach has to do this week.
Harp’s Admirals will face a Lexington Christian team led one of his best friends in coaching, Ray Graham, in a high-stakes game Friday in Lexington.
The teams are playing for second place in Class AA, District 7, which affords the winner the chance to host a first-round playoff game.
The loser of their game in Lexington will play a first-round game at Leslie County or Prestonsburg, and those are destinations that Harp would just as soon avoid for as long as possible.
“Absolutely,” Harp said. “We don’t want to go to any of them.”
Harp said he also doesn’t necessarily want to go up against Graham, but the district schedule demands it for the next four years. This will be their first meeting since 1996, when Graham’s Harrison County team defeated Danville in the Constitution Bowl.
“I hate lining up against Ray,” Harp said. “We’re very good friends, and we still will be during and after the game. I’m going to try to beat him and he’s going to try to beat me, and when it’s over with we’ll love up on each other again, and that’s the way it should be.”
The two coaches have faced off five times during Harp’s tenure at Danville. The Admirals won annual meetings from 1989-92, including two playoff games.
This is Graham’s second year at LCA. He replaced current Mercer County coach Paul Rains, who won the 2009 Class A championship and resigned not long before the 2010 season.
The Eagles (3-5, 1-1 district), who are in their first season in AA, defeated Middlesboro 30-12 in their district opener but lost 37-6 to Somerset last week. They employ the spread offense marketed by former Mercer County coach and Kentucky assistant Tony Franklin, and Harp said there are major difference between their approach and the passing attack used by Middlesboro, which Danville (6-2, 1-1) stifled in a 64-14 win last week.
“They spread it and throw it like Middlesboro, but they will run the ball more,” Harp said. “They’ve got quite a few more run wrinkles than what Middlesboro does. They’re not going to be afraid to run the ball, and anybody who’s watched us play against Somerset is not going to be afraid to run the ball.”
Graham changed quarterbacks four weeks ago, replacing freshman Dima Ballard with sophomore Lincoln Henzman, who was LCA’s leading receiver at the time. In three games as the Eagles’ primary quarterback, Henzman is 30 for 66 for 391 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions. Four of the touchdown passes came in a 52-14 win over Frankfort on Sept. 23, and all five interceptions came last week against Somerset.
“I’m sure (he) brings a little more physicality to it right now. He’s a year older and a little bigger,” Harp said of the 6-2, 180-pound Henzman.
Leading receiver Justin King, one of four Eagles with at least 10 receptions, has 27 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns.
“He’s elusive, and they try to get the ball to him a lot,” Harp said.
Any of a handful of players can run the ball for LCA, led by Sam Maybriar with 48 carries for 222 yards.
The Eagles are averaging only 220 yards per game (146 rushing, 74 passing) and have been held to seven points or less in five of their eight games. Their defense is allowing 140 rushing yards and 191 passing yards per game, and they are giving up 29.6 points per game.
“I’m sure he’s going to scheme them to try to stop what we do best. He’s going to have them ready, no question about that,” Harp said.
Harp said he’s doing his best to make sure Danville is in the same state.
“We’ve tried to get their attention since the first day of practice this week. You’ve got to stay on top of that with these guys,” he said.
The Admirals average 32.3 points and 256 yards per game, and their defense allows 21.0 points and 314 yards per game.
Tryston Ford scored three touchdowns during their 42-points second quarter and four overall last week, and he leads the Admirals in all-purpose yards with 1,177 and in touchdowns with 13.Max Ray is the leading rusher with 426 yards and eight touchdowns. Leroy Hawkins moved into a tie with Marcus Brown for the team lead in receptions with five, and three of his five catches have been for touchdowns.
On defense, lineman J.K. Howard leads the team in tackles with 26, followed closely by Jacobie Harris (25 1/2), Ray (25), Tre’von Sandifer (25) and Jawan Grey (24).