By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
PAINTSVILLE—North Middle’s best season came to an end Saturday with a 12-6 loss to defending state champion Johnson Central. It will also end the coaching careers of Dusty Carloftis and Harold Robinson with a combined 74 years of experience.
“It’s been my privilege to coach these boys and I hope somewhere along the way we’ve taught them a little more than football. I hope we’ve taught them about life as well,” Carloftis said.
Saturday’s game was a tough lesson in itself with the Jaguars doing all they could in a showdown of unbeaten teams. The winner would emerge as favorite to win a state title.
“I think everybody there said it was one of the better games they had ever seen high school or middle school,” Carloftis said.
“Our guys played their hearts out. It was a great game except for us not winning. Other than that you couldn’t ask for a better game.”
There would be drama from the opening kick until the final seconds beginning with an onside kick by Johnson County to open the game. The Jaguars recovered with good field position. Jose Rodriguez broke a 19-yard run. Nick Broughton followed with a long run on a key third down. The drive would bog down after reaching the 1-yard line.
“On the first drive, we had the ball first-and-goal at the 1 and got a penalty. I think that really hurt us,” Carloftis said.
North Middle faced a third-and-23 at the 24-yard line with Johnson County middle linebacker Blake Gamble causing most of the problems in the North Middle backfield.
It looked like North Middle might work its way out of the hole when Cole McWhorter connected with Broughton on a pass that took the Jaguars to the 5-yard line, but a personal foul against North Laurel brought the play back. Instead of fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line it was fourth-and-25. A bad snap then gave Johnson County the ball at midfield.
“They were a great defense. You know how much we like to run and a good gain for us was probably around three yards,” Carloftis said.
A penalty would cost Johnson Central as well. With 9.5 seconds in the first quarter, Dalton Collins caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Stephen Gound. A personal foul erased the points and put Johnson Central in third-and-long.
Another bad snap would hurt the Jaguars on their second possession as Justin Moore tried to make something happen on a fake punt. Johnson Central got the ball in good field position and took advantage with a long gain by Stephen Gound to the 7-yard line.
Again the defense came up big with McWhorter recovering a fumble forced by Moore.
North Laurel was forced to punt from deep in Johnson Central territory. A roughing the kicker penalty on the punt would give North Middle new life. North Middle turned the ball over on downs giving the Eagles the ball in North Middle territory again. The Jaguars defense held, but there wasn’t much time for North Middle to work with. The Jaguars had hope of taking a halftime lead when Matthew Sizemore broke a 60-yard run with 44 seconds. Sizemore’s run would be wiped out by a penalty as well as the teams went into halftime scoreless.
With 3:50 in the third quarter, North Middle faced a fourth-and-4 at the 44-yard line. The plan was to go for the first down, but a penalty would push them back five more yards and force the Jaguars to punt. Although the Eagles had started most of their drives with better field position this time they would come up big.
Blake Gamble and Gound connected on a 68-yard touchdown on a play action pass. The conversion failed for a 6-0 lead with 2:38 in the third quarter. A 4-yard run by Gamble made it a 12-0 lead with 4:31 to play.
“Our defense played awesome. You couldn’t ask for any more out of our defense, to hold somebody like that to 12 points,” Carloftis said.
The Jaguars found hope when Broughton got outside for an 80-yard run with 4:04 to play. Just as big as the touchdown was the fact it took North Laurel less than 30 seconds to score. The two-point conversion failed as Johnson Central held a 12-6 lead.
Broughton then recovered an onside kick to give the ball right back to the Jaguars at midifield. Broughton made a couple more good moves on a pass from McWhorter for a 30-yard gain to move the ball to the 20-yard line. The Jaguars hopes would end on downs with a sack with 1:19 to play.
“I hated to see it end for these boys,” Carloftis said. “Lord have mercy our boys played hard. I was pleased with the total effort. You can’t fault anybody on that.”