It doesn’t carry the same playoff implications of the past few years, but tonight’s Whitley County-North Laurel game can potentially give the winner a jump-start of optimism that can carry over into next season.

Finishing with a win “does so much for the off-season,” North Laurel coach David Abbott said. North’s win over Madison Central late last season helped the Jags keep kids on the middle school and freshman teams interested and encouraged about the future and wanting to keep coming out for football.

North won three of its first five games this season, but since then has dropped four straight as a rash of injuries and inconsistent play has taken its toll on the Jaguar psyche.

“It has been a tough season — especially here down the stretch it’s been kind of difficult — and it would be great for us as a team and as a program, especially for this senior group to be able to go out with a victory,” Abbott said. “Getting a win Friday night will help us out in that carryover to next year.”

Whitley County (1-8, 0-5 dist.) has struggled even more than North, however, as the Colonels have had trouble adjusting to new coach Jim Black, as well as having some key injuries. But they have some talent in the backfield with Cody Jeffries, Jordan McCumbers and Jason Powers, and have shown a tendency to play their opponents tough, regardless of ranking. And that’s a trait Abbott has seen before.

“They remind me a lot of us last year,” he said. “Right there in ballgames, real close, they’ve played everybody’s tails off … It’s not like they’re just getting blown away by people. They continue to fight all the way through.”

Abbott said he’s hoping to see better tackling out of his defense against the Whitley running game.

“We’ve had a lot of difficulty stopping the run this year,” he said. “That’s a huge task for us, especially with how well this group runs the ball.”

The Jaguars will do some shuffling around of players to deal with the injury problems that have piled up, and that will also give Abbott a look at some new faces.

“We’re patching holes, and even the ones we have players for it, they’re playing through some pain,” he said. “It make s it tough.”

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