By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
WILLIAMSBURG—North Laurel held a 14-7 lead at halftime and seemed to have momentum securely on its side. They also had the ball to start the second half, but that is where the tide changed.
On the Jaguars first play of the second half, Michael Nelson broke a 12-yard run before a hard hit jarred the ball loose. It took just four plays for Whitley County tie the game.
“I thought one of the turning points was when we fumbled to start the second half. You can’t tell what goes through kids’ minds these days, but that could have been big momentum for us if we hadn’t fumbled,” North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said.
A second tough break for the Jaguars came on the next series. Nelson dropped back for a pass, but was about to be sacked when he threw the ball toward Cole Lewis. The officials ruled intentional grounding, which cost the Jaguars 5 yards and the down. Larkey didn’t agree with the call.
“That hurt. We were throwing to that receiver. He got grabbed and he was trying to throw it to him,” Larkey said. “I told the referees they did a good job tonight. I don’t always agree with their calls. I see it through a different set of eyes.”
Facing a long third down, the Jaguars drive stalled. Three plays later the Colonels took the lead.
“Momentum definitely went to them and our kids weren’t able to gain I back,” Larkey said.
The Colonels rolled on to a 41-20 win to set up a second round playoff matchup at Pulaski County next week. For the Jaguars, the season ends with their first playoff trip since 2004.
“I told them juniors are now seniors and I think the reality just hit them in the face. They are guaranteed 10 games next season and that is it,” Larkey said. “It’s up to them to feed off of this. They learned what the playoffs are about. They learned how intense you’ve got to be on every play.”
For at least one half, it looked like North Laurel would live to play another week.
The Colonels moved the ball on their opening drive behind the powerful running of 250-pound fullback Boston Bryant. Penalties helped to stall the drive at the North Laurel 16-yard line. When Alex Conlin’s 33-yard field goal missed it was a big stop for the Jaguars defense.
With Nelson not starting at quarterback due to a torn bicep, the North Laurel offense managed just two yards on its first series.
The Colonels drove with the ball again on their second possession, but this time they wouldn’t be stopped. The pounding of Bryant paved the way for the more elusive running of quarterback Austin Ysidro. The touchdown came on a 33-yard run by Ysidro. He juked two would-be tacklers and then showed he had power as well as he lowered his shoulder into the end zone.
“They’ve got a really good offense. Of course they’ve got some horses back there to do what they do. They are a lot bigger than we are,” Larkey said.
The second quarter would belong to North Laurel. The offense came alive with Nelson now at quarterback, although it was Gabe Blair getting the bulk of the carries. The Jaguars drove 73 yards for the game-tying score with only two plays not handoffs to Blair. Nelson connected with Lewis on a 24-yard screen pass. Nelson scored on a 1-yard run for his first carry.
“He played tough. He played through the pain,” Larkey said. “He gave us a threat. Anytime you have to concentrate on both of them, it opens up. Michael played a great. Considering the pain he was in, Gabe too. Gabe was playing hurt.”
The Jaguars secured the momentum when Austin Baker’s hit forced a Zack Mills fumble. Baker also recovered. Nelson then got his second carry of the game and his second touchdown, a 43-yard sprint down the sideline with Lewis opening the door with a key block. Nelson would finish with 90 yards on just eight carries. Blair led the Jaguars with 103 yards on 21 carries.
The North Laurel defense responded by forcing punts the next two possessions to assure a Jaguars lead at the half. Whitley County had about 130 yards and seven first downs at the half, but North Laurel had the lead. The Colonels took control in the second half after the fumble and finished with almost 500 yards rushing. Ysidro would rush for over 230 yards and Bryant 170.
“We knew Whitley County was getting chewed out over there in the locker room. I know coach (Jim) Black is going to have them come back out fired up. They did play good in the second half,” Larkey said.
Following the North Laurel fumble, Bryant scored on a 1-yard run. After a North Laurel punt, Ysidro scored on a 10-yard run for a 20-14 Whitley County lead.
The Colonels scored on their first four possessions of the second half. A 1-yard run by Ysidro with :02 in the third quarter made it 26-14.
The Jaguars tried to throw the ball to loosen the Whitley County defense. Instead a Tyler Sears interception set up a 10-yard scoring run by Ysidro.
“You key all week on certain things and they adjusted in the second half and our kids didn’t adjust very good in the second half,” Larkey said.
The Jaguars did have a glimmer of hope when Nelson returned the kickoff 80-yards for a touchdown. Now trailing 34-20, the defense still couldn’t get a stop. A 40-yard run by Ysidro led to a 2-yard touchdown by Bryant for the 41-20 final score.
“I thought we had a real good chance tonight. We played good. We just couldn’t capitalize on the penalties and turnovers,” Larkey said. “Hats off to Whitley County. They have a good team and they did capitalize.”
Class 5A KHSAA Playoffs
Whitley County 41, North Laurel 20
North Laurel 0 14 0 6—20
Whitley County 7 0 19 15—41
WC—Ysidro 33 run (Conlin kick); NL—Nelson 1 run (Kennedy kick); NL—Nelson 43 run (Kennedy kick); WC—Bryant 1 run (Conlin kick); WC—Ysidro 10 run (Kick failed); WC—Ysidro 1 run (kick failed); WC—Ysidro 10 run (Lewis run); N—Nelson 80 kick return (run failed); WC—Bryant run (Conlin kick).