By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
What a difference a year makes for Southwestern. The 2011 version of the Warriors won their last six regular season games and a district title. One of those wins was a 56-0 rout of North Laurel. Then they rolled through the playoffs with wins over Whitley County, Perry County Central, and Harlan County. The overtime win over Harlan County gave Southwestern a region title and left them one win away from playing for a state title. The magical run ended with a 49-8 loss to Anderson County.
One of the 11 seniors gone from that team is Dustin Powell, who rushed for just under 200 yards per game and 32 touchdowns.
“I still think Russell County was the best team we played last year, but Southwestern had two good linemen, one really good lineman and two really good running backs,“ North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said. The thing is they have three of those linemen back.”
This year the Warriors are at .500 after six games. The three teams they have beaten have combined for just four wins. The three games they have lost have been by an average margin of 33 points. Larkey says don’t let the record fool you.
“A lot of people think it’s going to be an easy game, but they haven’t watched the film I have,” he said.
The Warriors are coming off an emotional 42-41 overtime win over South Laurel when they chose to go for two-points and the win. North Laurel is trying to rebound from a 28-21 loss to Pulaski County that the Jaguars led at one point 21-0.
“It was a downer, but our kids got over it pretty good. They know this is a must-win game for us to stay in the district race with them. There is a lot riding on this game, senior night and homecoming.”
Tonight will be a match up of two teams that prefer to run the ball. The Warriors have rushed for 1,342 yards on the season and allowed 1,025 rushing yards. North Laurel has gained more with 1,803 yards rushing and allowed 1,109.
“They’re going to run the ball at you. That’s been our weakness this year is teams that run the ball right at us. We’re going to have to get more physical to stop them,” Larkey said.
Logan Campisano has been the main threat for Southwestern with 791 yards and eight touchdowns. He averages 132 yards rushing per game.
“He’s not overly a speed demon, but he runs hard and knows how to find the holes. It all starts with their line,“ Larkey said. “They kind of keep you off guard too, because the quarterback will keep it and smoke you.”
Quarterback Austin Smiddy has completed just 18-of-51 pass attempts (35 percent) with three touchdown and three interceptions. All three touchdown passes have been to Devon Baker and make up one-third of his nine catches. Although the Warriors have seven more attempts than North Laurel’s Hagen Hodges and Michael Nelson, the Jaguars’ quarterbacks have four more touchdowns.
“They throw when they are forced to, they are a lot like us. They like to run he football,” Larkey said.
The Warriors are allowing almost 34 points per game, but have shown an ability to force turnovers. They have forced 10 fumbles and two interceptions in their first six games. Jesse Meece has been the team’s leading tackler with 43.
“They will play a 50 (defense) about like Pulaski and they are going to try to stop us from getting outside. That is their whole goal. That’s what Pulaski County did,” Larkey said.
Last week’s loss did not knock the Jaguar out of the race for the district title, but it did make it much more difficult. The Jaguars need to win out and then hope Madison Southern beats Pulaski County. Larkey said his team should have enough points to finish first or second if there is a three-way tie. But first, they have to take care of Southwestern.
“They lost a few players and have gotten beat some this year. People may think it’s going to be an easy game and it’s not,” Larkey said. “I think it’s going to be a tough physical hard-to-win football game.”