LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
With Southwestern making every yard a challenge for the North Laurel offense, it was the defense that starred in a 17-7 win for the Jaguars.
“That’s the kind of win that I think turns a team around. That’s the kind of win that we have not gotten in a long time. One of those hard-fought, tough 48-minute games,” North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said.
The game was in doubt until a Michael Nelson touchdown with 1:55 to play gave North Laurel some breathing room. Although no lead seems too safe after a 21-0 advantage crumbled last week against Pulaski County.
“If they had done that last week, we would be sitting great in the district race right now,” Larkey said.
The Jaguars still have hopes of getting a piece of the district title, but need help after the loss to Pulaski County. Friday’s win over Southwestern keeps North Laurel in second place and still in control of earning a playoff spot. Larkey said it was more than playoff position that had his team ready to play.
“After we read the newspaper what they had said, they didn’t have any respect for us. They said we hadn’t played anybody and don’t be deceived by our record. I think they found out we are a pretty good football team,” Larkey said.
Regardless of the motivation it was a full days work for both teams with every yard a challenge. The Warriors held Michael Nelson to a season low 23 yards. Gabe Blair would be the bulldozer that moved the pile a few yards at a time. Blair rushed for 108 yards on 25 carries.
North Laurel also mixed in a few more passing plays with Michael Nelson completing 4-of-8 passes for 53 yards.
“I showed we can do other stuff besides run,” Larkey said. “We showed if you’re going to stuff us we’re just going to throw over top of you, which we can do. We are a pretty complete team although we like to run the ball.”
But it was the defense’s night with the only points they gave up when the Warriors were given a short field to work with.
“I think our defensive coaches did a tremendous job,” Larkey said. “They held them to seven points and anytime you do that to a good football team you’re doing something right.”
North Laurel was forced to punt on its first three possessions. On the third series, pressure forced Nelson to rush the punt. Southwestern took over at the North Laurel 22, but the defense held. North Laurel got the ball back on downs only to fumble it away two plays later. This time the Warriors took over at the North Laurel 38 and scored three plays later on a 20-yard run by Logan Campisano.
“ We tried to shoot ourselves in the foot in the first half. Our defense kept bailing us out,” Larkey said.
Campisano finished with 26 carries for 153 yards. He entered the night averaging 132 yards per game.
North Laurel responded with a clock-eating drive. With a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line they appeared poised to tie the game. They would be stuffed on four straight plays and turn the ball over inches from the goal line.
“Southwestern played good on defense. They came in to stop the run and they did,” Larkey said.
With quarterback Austin Smiddy getting the snap in the end zone, the Warriors first play would be a disaster. North Laurel’s Josh Velasco chased Smiddy to the back of the end zone and took him down for a safety to make it a 7-2 score.
North Laurel took the lead on its first possession of the second half. The 73-yard drive included a 26-yard pass from Nelson to Cole Lewis and a 19-yard run by Jake McWhorter. It looked like the drive might stall again when facing a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. The go-ahead score came on a 1-yard sneak by Nelson.
“We knew going in they were going to be physical and they were. Our kids were just more physical than they were in the end and our kids wanted it more,” Larkey said.
Nelson to Blair on the two-point conversion made it a 10-7 game.
Southwestern pieced together a drive that ate up half of the fourth quarter, but never made it over midfield. The drive fell apart when Smiddy was called for intentional grounding to back the Warriors into second down-and-35. Forced to punt on fourth-and-20 from their own 40, the snap sailed over the punters head. North Laurel took over at the Warriors’ 34.
The final yards to the goal line would again be the toughest. On fourth-and-8 from the 12, Nelson hooked up with Lewis for an apparent touchdown that would be called back on a holding penalty. The Jaguars found a play that worked, but it wasn’t the play that was called.
“We were going to throw the football. We were going to look for the same play just the opposite direction,” Larkey said. “Nelson saw a gap and he took off.”
Nelson bolted 20 yards for the first down and then three more for the touchdown with 1:55 to play.
“I think we just wore them out in the end. I think we were just mentally and physically tougher than they were,” Larkey said.
North Laurel will have another test next week when it travels to Madison Southern. The Eagles also have just one district loss after falling to Pulaski County by one point.
“It’s a big thing for our kids when they learn how to win. Finally maybe they have learned to turn that corner and play for 48 minutes,” Larkey said.
North Laurel 17, Southwestern 7
Southwestern 0 7 0 0—7
North Laurel 0 2 8 7—17
SW—Campisano 20 run (Baker kick); NL—Valesco safety; NL—Nelson 1 run (Nelson to Baker); NL—Nelson 3 run (Kennedy kick).