By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
It’s the 11th game of the season and first game of the playoffs. By now there is little mystery left in what a team does well and does not do well.
When North Laurel (6-4) travels to Whitley County (6-4) tonight, it will be two teams that like to run the ball and throw just enough to keep you honest. Only five points separates the total points scored by each team this season. The similarities end with how they get those yards and points.
“They run the option real well. They like to run the fullback a lot. If they catch you playing the run too much, they will throw it off that option,” Larkey said. “It’s something you don’t prepare against all year long. No one else runs it. It’s a tricky offense and it’s hard to prepare for.”
The Colonels average more than 300 yards per game rushing with a season-high 617 yards against Letcher County Central. Even in their loss to Russell County, they were able to burn the Lakers for 339 yards on the ground. The only team able to limit the Colonels ground attack has been Harlan, who held Whitley County to 32 yards rushing.
“They are a big, strong running football team. They have a monster fullback. They have a fast quarterback and a superfast wing back,” Larkey said.
Wingback Zack Mills leads a balanced rushing attack with more than 800 yards on the season. He burned Letcher Central for 224 yards and Perry Central for 141. Mills is also a dangerous receiver with five touchdown catches.
Fullback Boston Bryant, quarterback Austin Ysidro, and Austin Hooper have all rushed for more than 500 yards in the Colonels’ option offense.
“They are a well-coached team. They don’t make any bones about it, they are going to run the football,” Larkey said.
It is hard to get a read on the Whitley County Colonels just by looking at the results. With the exception of Somerset, all of their wins came against teams with losing records, teams they were supposed to beat. The most impressive win was probably over the Briar Jumpers, who were ranked high in Class 2A.
Likewise, the losses all came to teams Whitley County faced as an underdog. Russell County, Bell County, Harlan County, and Boyle County have a combined record of 32-8. Russell County is the only common opponent, but the other three state power probably give Whitley County the edge in strength of schedule.
“They are physical and fast. They have a really good football team,” Larkey said.
The Jaguars and Colonels played in the same district the first two years Larkey coached North Laurel. The Jaguars did not have much success, losing 56-20 in 2010 and 40-14 in 2009. In those losses, the Colonels were the more physical team. Larkey thinks his team has gotten stronger and more physical since the last meetings.
“They were more physical than us the first two times we played them. I think we are as physical this year as they are,” Larkey said.
Whitley County coach Jim Black has not lost to the Jaguars in five meetings. The only close game came in Black’s first season, 2006, when the Colonels won 18-13 against the David Abbott coached Jaguars. In the four meetings since then Whitley County has won by an average score of 46-19.
“To win the football game, we have to cause some turnovers. We can’t have any turnovers. We have to capitalize on their turnovers and get lucky on some things,” Larkey said.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. tonight at Whitley County High School.