By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
A 21-0 lead by North Laurel didn’t hold up as Pulaski County rallied for a 28-21 win Thursday. The Jaguars controlled the game and the momentum until midway through the third quarter. Once they lost it, there was no getting it back.
“The momentum changed on us and we just couldn’t stop them. Our defense played good enough for us to win. We bogged down on offense,” North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said.
The Jaguars tallied over 200 yards of total offense in the first half and struck twice on big plays. North Laurel managed only 52 yards in the second half and one first down.
“There was no great strategy change. We just started executing a little bit better,” Pulaski County coach John Hines said.
Another big change would be turnovers. The Maroons fumbled twice in the first half and again on the opening drive of the second half. They would not fumble again as they started to rally. Meanwhile North Laurel would fumble twice in the final 1:39.
“You know we made some turnovers in the first half that really put us in a hole. You can’t make turnovers against a good football team,” Hines said. “That’s a really good team. I don’t know that they are getting the credit they deserve in this district.”
The Jaguars were easily the best team in the first half and it showed from the opening play. Known for its power running game, North Laurel mixed it up with a bomb. Cole Lewis sprinted straight downfield and was hit in stride by Michael Nelson for a 65-yard touchdown.
“I decided today about 1:30 that was going to be the first play and it worked. It got the momentum for us,” Larkey said.
Pulaski County had success passing as it drove to the North Laurel 4-yard line, but penalties stalled the drive. It took just five plays for the Jaguars to make it a 14-0 game. Nelson broke to the outside and into the clear. When he saw a defender with an angle, he cut back across the field for a 79-yard score.
“They were just whipping our butt in the first half and we made some turnovers that kind of helped them whip our butt,” Hines said.
The Maroons fumbled on their next possession, but the Jaguars did not take advantage. They would convert on fourth down with Nelson running on a fake punt, but a penalty wiped out the first down. The Jaguars ended the night with 12 penalties for 80 yards.
“We killed ourselves with penalties on offense and defense. You do that in close games and you‘re not going to win,” Larkey said.
The Jaguars punted and two plays later the Maroons fumbled again. Penalties would bog down this drive as well. An illegal procedure call added five yards to a Keaton Kennedy field goal attempt, which came up short from 51 yards.
“Pulaski County has a good football team. Not to take anything away from them, but I think we just shot ourselves in the foot tonight,” Larkey said.
The second half did not start well for the Maroons. Caleb Cox tried to field the opening kickoff, but the officials ruled his knee touched the ground at the 2-yard line. Roughing the passer gave Pulaski County a first down, but a fumble on the next play set up the final North Laurel score. After a few pounding runs by Gabe Blair, Nelson scooted in from 3-yard out for a 21-0 lead with 8:20 in the third quarter.
The rest of the game the Jaguars ran 10 plays for 24 yards. They would also lose 10 yards in penalties and fumble twice.
“I thought our defense did a good job to settle their running game down in the second half to give us a chance to get back in it,” Hines said.
After the Jaguars made it 21-0, Pulaski County’s next drive looked easy. Riley Hall completed both pass attempts and also broke off two 11-yard runs. The touchdown came on a 5-yard run by Caleb Cox. You could feel the momentum swaying.
North Laurel went three-and-out with the Maroons taking over at their own 19. There were times this drive seemed to be floundering. A defensive holding penalty kept the drive going on third-and-15. Cox broke off a 12-yard run on fourth-and-3. The touchdown came on a 31-yard scamper where Riley Hall seemed to run within reach of every North Laurel defender.
The Maroons were forced to punt on their next possession. The North Laurel offense again went nowhere with a pair of penalties making sure of that. Pulaski County took over at midfield and the first play was a 31-yard completion. The touchdown came on a 3-yard run by Goins, who rushed for 120 yards. Goins entered the night averaging 115 yards per game.
It was here that Hines gambled, although he didn’t see it that way. An extra point would have tied the game. He wanted the win.
“We always have a two-point play ready and we are prepared to get the win,” Hines said. “It’s just been a frustrating thing to me as a coach. I think as a head coach I have had five overtime games and we have lost four of them. I don’t like overtimes.”
Hall found Goins open in the corner of the end zone for a 22-21 lead.
“We just couldn’t stop them. We stop them there and we win the game. They called a great play and caught us out of position,” Larkey said.
It only got worse for North Laurel from there. Cole Lewis fielded the kickoff and looked unsuccessfully for running room. As he tried to cut back across the field for a seam, a jolting hit by Cox freed the ball. Trent Fiene recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
“They didn’t run out of gas and we did,” Larkey said.
There was still hope when the extra point missed. Hope faded when Nelson tried to throw on first down. A crushing hit dislodged the ball and the Maroon recovered again.
The win keeps Pulaski County unbeaten in the district and at the top of the standings. It was the first district loss for the Jaguars, who will host Southwestern next week.
“We’ve just got to move on. Not worry about what happened and play the next game,” Larkey said.
That next game will be Friday when Southwestern comes to town. The Warriors beat South Laurel, 42-41, in overtime Thursday.
Pulaski County 28, North Laurel 21
Pulaski County 0 0 7 21—28
North Laurel 14 0 7 0—21
NL—Lewis 65 pass from Nelson (Kennedy kick); NL—Nelson 79 run (Kennedy kick); NL—Nelson 2 run (Kennedy kick); PC—Cox 5 run (Burgett kick); PC—Riley Hall 31 run (Burgett kick); PC—Goins 3 run (Hall to Goins); PC—Fiene fumble recovery in end zone (kick failed).