Thursday night felt just like Friday when the North Laurel Jaguars traveled to Whitley County to take on the Colonels in a district clash between the two football schools. And a clash was certainly what it was as both teams flexed and showed what they were made of throughout the game, with Whitley County coming away with a 28-22 victory in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.
North Laurel made what seemed to be the play of the game when they stopped the driving Whitley County offense at the 43-yard line with 1:49 left in the game, clinging to a 22-20 lead. The Jaguars took the ball and picked up a first down at the 33-yard line, but with 1:23 left in the game, a fumbled snap gave the Colonels back the ball with one final opportunity to score.
With 47 seconds remaining on the scoreboard, sophomore quarterback Seth Mills found senior Colt Asher for a 55-yard touchdown score to put Whitley County up 26-22. Running back Woody Lawson punched the ball in for the two-point conversion, giving the Colonels the score they needed to end the game.
For Whitley County Coach Jep Irwin, the game was just as crazy as it seemed, but he was glad that his kids were the ones to come out on top.
“It was definitely a roller coaster of emotions tonight. We moved the ball quite a bit on them, but couldn’t find the end zone. They were up on us 22-7, and then we score three touchdowns,” said Irwin. “We had opportunities to score and we couldn’t capitalize on them. Somehow we got the ball back and we were able to score. It was a crazy situation. I’m proud of our kids. They kept fighting.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Colonels struck first when Mills found Caleb Irwin on a five yard touchdown pass, giving Whitley County a 7-0 lead early in the second. North Laurel went on to score twice in the quarter, once on an eight-yard run from Grant Woods and another on a two-yard run from quarterback Dalton Sizemore, giving the Jaguars a 15-7 lead they took into the half.
To open the third quarter, Sizemore found Trevyn Morgan on a 67-yard touchdown pass that extended North Laurel’s lead to 22-7 with 10:05 left in the third quarter. Whitley County did not help themselves in the period, as Mills threw interceptions on two consecutive drives to North Laurel’s Gavin Hurst.
With two interceptions in the third quarter, the Jaguars seemingly had the game in the bag, with two opportunities to take a three-touchdown lead, but failed to turn the two turnovers into any type of points. Instead, North Laurel took their 22-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
While Whitley County had found success on offense throughout the game, they had failed to find points due to penalties and turnovers, but all of that changed in the game’s final period. The Colonels got the ball with just over 10 minutes to go in the game and Mills capped off a five-play, 66 yard drive with a two yard touchdown run, but the extra point was no good, cutting the lead to 22-13.
Just two drives later, the Colonels found themselves in scoring position again, this time taking 10 plays to cover just 39 yards, but finishing off the drive with a touchdown run from Zach Saylor with 5:03 left in the game, with the Jaguars leading 22-20.
North Laurel was able to run out the majority of the clock before their late-game turnover gave Whitley County what they needed to finish the game’s final drive.
Despite the loss, North Laurel Coach Chris Larkey said that he was extremely proud of the effort his team showed in all four quarters of the game. The Jaguars have been riddled with injuries this season and were starting numerous underclassmen in the game. Larkey said the way the game ended was unfortunate, but it happens.
“I think our guys played exceptionally well. We’re basically starting a JV team with so many injuries and so many young, brand new starters. We had so many kids who had never played a varsity game, playing tonight. It was amazing what we did with what we had,” said Larkey. “We knew how good Whitley County was. Our kids fought hard. It was just an awful, terrible way to lose. We had a kid playing center for the first time in a varsity game and we fumbled a snap. It was nobody’s fault. It just happens sometimes. We would’ve won the game. It was just a terrible way to lose.”
While turnovers were a major part of the game, Irwin said that explosive plays are always important, and Whitley County had their fair share on Thursday, including the game winning play of 55 yards. Mills finished the game 261 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
“Turnovers are always a big story, but so are explosive plays,” Irwin said. “We had explosive plays in the passing game that really helped us tonight. The last explosive play, the 55-yard touchdown, was what won the game for us. We weren’t very successful running the football and we fell behind early so we needed to pass some more, and I thought we did a good job of making those big plays when we needed it.”
With the win, the Colonels all but locked up the No. 2 seed in the district, but it looks like the Jaguars will likely be the No. 3, meaning the two teams could face off again in a few weeks in the opening round of the playoffs. Larkey said that he thinks both teams will be ready when it really matters in the playoffs.
“That game was basically for homefield advantage in the playoffs and they took care of business and got that tonight,” Larkey said. “We’re going to take some time off next week and rest up, and hopefully get some guys back. Then we play Wayne County, who may have the best running back in Kentucky on their team. Then we will get ready for them (Whitley County) again. That is the game that really matters.”