By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
It’s the final district game for both teams. When South Laurel travels to face North Laurel tonight in the First Priority Bowl, the only thing on the line is county bragging rights.
North Laurel has sealed a district playoff spot, while South Laurel won’t be making a post season appearance. But don’t think there isn’t anything on the line.
“You don’t ever want to lose to your rival,” North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said. “That’s the biggest thing. We don’t look at it as a district game. We look at it as a rival game.”
For South Laurel coach Matt Rhymer, this will be his first North-South experience.
“I have not heard a lot about this rivalry, but I expect it to be a nice atmosphere for a game, at least it should seeing the schools are only a few miles from one another,” Rhymer said. “I know this you have to be careful about circling games on this schedule because we play in a very good district and you have to prepare every week to compete at a high level. We are preparing the same for this game as we have all others. We are excited for a chance to play and get better.”
Both teams are coming off tough losses last week, as the Jaguars fell to Madison Southern and the Cardinals were blanked by Pulaski County, so both teams will be looking to get back on the winning track.
“I know North will be focused and determined after coming off a tough district loss last week,” Rhymer said. “Those kids play hard and are coached well, so I know we will be getting their best effort.”
Larkey said he hasn’t noted any effects from the loss last week to Madison Southern.
“I don’t think so because we lost to a good football team,” Larkey said. “I think our kids know they lost to a good team. I think we’ll bounce back and be fine.”
This will be the 22nd meeting between the two schools, with South Laurel holding a 13-8 edge in the series, but North Laurel has won three of the last four, including last year’s 35-10 win.
Unlike in the past, this year both teams feature running games. Rhymer knows his team will have to key on Gabe Blair in order to stop the Jaguars, or at least slow them down.
“North has a great running game,” Rhymer said. “They block well and the backs run extremely hard. Blair is as good as anyone we have faced. I think he is a top player in the mountains and could play on any team in the state. I have enjoyed watching him on tape. For us to slow down their run game we have to try and run it some ourselves and make first downs. They are going to move the ball; they have against everyone. We also have to be physical on the line and make great tackles. If their backs get in the open they are really hard to bring down.”
Larkey said preparing for this version of the South Laurel Cardinals is different than the previous years.
“They obviously run the ball a whole lot more,” Larkey said. “That’s something we have to prepare for. They use their big guys up front a lot more. It’s just a totally different system. Their size and the system worries me. They’ve been playing really well of late.”
“Last week we played a great first half in some areas, we still made a lot of mistakes, but the best thing was we played hard and competed well,” Rhymer said. “If you do those things you always have a chance to get better. We are about as healthy as we can be at this point, but we really needed an open week but we have managed. I would like to thank First Priority Tri-County for sponsoring this game and doing so much for our students in the area. It means a lot to the kids, and gets the community involved. We really appreciate what they are doing and what they stand for.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. tonight at The Jungle at North Laurel.
Sports Writer Mitch Howard contributed to this story.