By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
STANFORD —North Laurel powered its way to a 35-14 win at Lincoln County Friday, passing a lot of milestones along the way. It is the first playoff team and winning season for coach Chris Larkey. North Laurel had not accomplished either of those feats since 2004.
“It’s the first winning season in so long and the first time we’ve made the playoffs in so long. The kids deserve it. They worked hard for it,” Larkey said. “We didn’t do anything special. We just made them run and lift. They took care of the rest of it.”
Gabe Blair topped the 1,000-yard mark for the season to give the Jaguars two 1,000-yard rushers on the year. Michael Nelson has also rushed for over 1,000. Blair and Nelson both had a big night as the Jaguars racked up more than 400 yards rushing. Blair finished with 168 yards on 26 carries. Nelson needed just 12 carries for 210 yards. The speedy junior broke touchdown runs of 37, 63, and 83 yards.
North Laurel attempted just one pass, a 95-yard touchdown from Nelson to Cole Lewis.
“I would love to do that all the time, rush for 400 yards, throw one time and win,” Larkey said.
Only the opening minutes and closing minutes were competitive with North Laurel controlling the meat of the game. The Jaguars stopped themselves on an early drive before getting the offense rolling. They also held the Patriots scoreless until the final minutes.
“We worked the line really hard this week and I thought it paid off. We jerked out the old school stuff on them,” Larkey said.
A fumble ended the Jaguars first drive after Blair had hammered out 46 yards on eight carries. The Patriots missed a long field goal attempt, but still seemed to be in business when penalties pushed North Laurel back to the 5-yard line. On third-and-25, Nelson lofted a deep pass to Cole Lewis for a long touchdown that started the Jaguars’ roll.
North Laurel scored on three straight possessions to open a 21-0 lead. The drives were mostly Blair loosening up the defense and Nelson finishing them off. Nelson’s first score was a 37-yard run with 6:47 in the half. Only two players had a chance to make a tackle, Nelson left both reaching for air.
After a Lincoln County fumble, Nelson struck again. This time he left the defense in his wake on a 67-yard run.
The North Laurel defense had done its part as well. Lincoln County rushed for only 26 yards in the first half, while North Laurel had almost 300 yards of total offense. One-fourth of the Patriots running plays had lost yardage. They would hurt the Jaguars with the pass after they fell behind 21-0.
“They like to run the ball, so we didn’t practice an enormous amount on trying to stop the pass. We dropped about four or five interceptions. We dropped two or three that were touchdowns,” Larkey said.
North Laurel had some experience with 21-0 leads. That was the advantage it held on Pulaski County before the Maroons rallied for a win in the second half.
“We went up 21-0 at half and we told them it wasn’t going to be like Pulaski County. We were not going to lose this ball game,” Larkey said.
The Jaguars had the ball just once in the third quarter and punted. They would strike quickly in the fourth quarter. On third-and-4, the Patriots sent everyone to try and stop a first down. Nelson broke through the line and no one was going to catch him. His 83-yard run made it a 28-0 game.
“They stopped us on some stuff, but I think we tricked them on some new formations we ran this week. We just tried to take what was there and sometimes the sneak was there,” Larkey said.
After Lincoln County turned the ball over on downs, the Jaguars needed just three plays to make it a 35-0 game. Blair capped the drive with a 5-yard run with 8:04 to play.
Lincoln County would drive 80 yards behind the legs and arm of quarterback Justin Hubble. Hubble’s 8-yard run with 4:17 to play ended the shutout.
The Patriots then tried an onside kick, which they recovered. The ball was stopped from going out of bounds by the leg of a North Laurel player and easily recovered from there. With 2:27 to play, the Patriots scored again on a 6-yard pass from Hubble to Conner Patterson.
“We just made some mental mistakes toward the end that we have to clean up. We can’t get tight in games when they start to move the ball. We‘ve got to bow up and stop that stuff,” Larkey said.
With Whitley County’s 55-19 win over Letcher Central and Harlan County routing Perry Central 55-20, the Jaguars knew who they would face in two weeks. North Laurel will travel to Whitley County for its first round game.
North Laurel 35, Lincoln County 14
North Laurel 7 14 0 14-35
Lincoln County 0 0 0 14-14
NL—Lewis 95 pass from Nelson (Kennedy kick); NL—Nelson 37 run (Kennedy kick); NL—Nelson 63 run (Kennedy kick); NL—Nelson 83 run (Kennedy kick); NL—Blair 5 run (Kennedy kick); LC—Hubble 8 run (Baird kick); LC—Patterson 6 pass from Hubble (Baird kick).