By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Welcome to North Laurel football 2012 where every game is a big game. This week the Jaguars travel to Madison Southern with hopes of hosting a first-round playoff game possibly at stake.
“I really think we’re going to have to win both (remaining) games to for sure have a home playoff game. We definitely have to win this game because we’re tied with them for second place,” North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said.
There is still an outside shot one of these teams could win the district title. There is also a chance they could miss the playoffs.
Madison Southern won only two games last season. The Eagles routed winless Lynn Camp 42-14 and then surprised North Laurel 35-31. The Jaguars lost despite 284 yards and three touchdowns from Gabe Blair. Michael Nelson also racked up 175 yards as North Laurel rushed for 463 yards.
“We just didn’t have any depth last year and we had a lot of first-year guys that got thrown in and were out of position. It was a rough night for injuries,” Larkey said. “We had a good chance to win, up 10 in the fourth quarter.”
The Eagles used a balanced attack with 241 yards rushing and 184 passing yards. Coty Russell rushed for 211 yards and Devante Linville threw for 165 yards. Both of those players are back, but it is sophomore Damien Harris that is causing a stir in Berea and getting the attention of college coaches. Harris, who did not play in last year’s game due to injury, is averaging 235 yards and almost five touchdowns per game. He already has scholarship offers from Tennessee and Michigan.
“It’s going to be a challenge to slow him down. The only way to slow him down is keep the football from him,” Larkey said.
Harris has rushed for 1,412 yards despite not playing in the season opener against Bourbon County. Since making his season debut against Lynn Camp with 252 yards and five touchdowns, Harris has topped 200 yards in six straight games. He has scored five touchdowns in five of his six games. Last week he burned Pulaski County for 272 yards and five touchdowns. Against a Wayne County team that held North Laurel to 127 yards rushing, Harris alone had 205 yards and three touchdowns. The Eagles lost that game, 22-21, in overtime.
“He’s not a power runner, but he will stiff arm you. He’s super strong and faster than Michael Nelson. Probably the fastest guy we will play all year. If he gets a seam he’s scoring a touchdown. There is no catching him,” Larkey said.
Running is what the Eagles do, but they will throw enough to keep the defense honest. Although attempting fewer than 10 passes per game, Adam Simpson has been effective when called upon to throw the ball. He has completed 33 of 64 attempts for 524 yards and four touchdowns. Simpson has thrown just one interception.
“They are not the best throwing team we play but they do it enough to spread you out. Their quarterback is good and so is their fullback,” Larkey said.
The Eagles have only two losses since Harris stepped into the backfield. Both were one-point losses to Wayne County and Pulaski County. The Jaguars also lost to Pulaski County by a single point, but fell to Wayne County 27-7.
Before last year’s meeting, Madison Southern had not played North Laurel since losing to the Jaguars 35-34 in 2006. The Eagles finished 4-6 that season and would fall on harder times. From 2007-2010 they would win just three games with a winless season in 2007. Their last winning season was in 2005 when they finished 9-3 and beat Johnson Central in a first round playoff game before falling to Bell County.