By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Although they lost to Madison Southern last week, North Laurel still accomplished one of its goals. The Jaguars clinched a spot in the playoffs due to Southwestern’s loss to Lincoln County. There is still a lot to play for this week for North Laurel.
“Our kids our excited that we’re in the playoffs. It’s the first time since 2004, most of our kids were six or seven years old then. It was Nik Blair’s senior year,” North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said.
It was also 2004 when the Jaguars had their last winning season, going 6-5 in the final year under Greg Duncum. A victory Friday will assure North Laurel of a winning record.
The winner will also finish third in the district, which could be a difference of many miles for their first round playoff opponent. The third place finisher is projected to play at Whitley County. The fourth place team will likely be at Harlan County.
The only wrench in that scenario would be if Perry Central were to upset Harlan County, the Black Bears tumble to third place and Whitley County wins the district.
There are a lot of similarities between Friday’s opponents. North Laurel and Lincoln County enter the game with identical 5-4 records. Both are also averaging 28 points per game on offense. Three of their four losses have been to the same teams. Both lost to Pulaski County and Madison Southern in the district. Both fell to Wayne County in a non-district game.
“They are just like us,” Larkey said. “They run the football in basically the same formations that we do and they throw it very little.”
The Jaguars may have the edge on defense, where they have allowed a touchdown less per game with the margin even greater among common opponents.
“Our defense is playing very good this year. They have played good every week. They have only given up 178 points, which is the lowest in the history of the school so far,” Larkey said.
While you might give the Jaguars the advantage on defense, the Patriots will have a home-field advantage. Lincoln County’s only home loss was to Madison Southern..
“It’s a drag playing over there. It is just different than any place I have been too. You never can get in a rhythm over there. I don’t know what it is,” Larkey said. “Our kids don’t realize that because they have never played a varsity game there.”
North Laurel has had mixed results on the road this season. While the Jaguars did pick up wins at Pineville and South Laurel, they turned in lesser performances in losses to Wayne County and Madison Southern. It was the offense that Larkey sees as struggling in the road losses. They did not score until the fourth quarter last week.
“Our offense let us down and that’s my fault because I am the offensive coach,” Larkey said.
Now with several good practices under their belt and a lot still to play for, he expects a better effort at Lincoln County.
“We’ve been pretty hard on them this week. Win or lose our kids are going to give it everything they’ve got and go out fighting,” Larkey said.
Michael Nelson topped 1,000 yards for the second straight season with 141 yards against Madison Southern. Gabe Blair needs 110 yards for his second straight 1,000 yard season.
“Our linemen know it is on them and they have taken the challenge this week. The (offensive) line has got to take it on and make holes for the backs,“ Larkey said. “They are the toughest guys on the field and they get very little credit.”