TIMES TRIBUNE (CORBIN, Ky.)
By Mitch Howard / The Endzone Staff
NORTH LAUREL — Before North Laurel’s 48-21 win over Lincoln County, Patriots coach Mike Settles made a joking offer to North Laurel coach Chris Larkey.
“He said you pick a player and I will sit him out then I will pick one,” Larkey said.
The player Settles picked was Gabe Blair and it would have been the right choice. The Patriots had no answer for Blair, who rushed for a career-high 318 yards on 34 carries.
“I know he was running hard. He’s a bulldozer,” Larkey said. “They were real worried about Gabe.”
And when they worried about Blair too much, they were burned by Jake McFadden with six carries for 166 yards.
“Gabe had a tremendous game. Jake McFadden had a tremendous game. Hagen (Hodges) controlled the offense for us. Our receivers went downfield and blocked for us,” Larkey said.
Despite the 27-point final margin, this was a pressure-packed game for North Laurel with its playoff hopes heavily influenced by the outcome. The Jaguars led 21-14 at halftime, but Lincoln County had two possessions where they could have tied the game before North Laurel started to pull away.
“First of all, I think I’m ready for a Disney World vacation,” Larkey said. “It was very stressful tonight. People need to start listening when I tell them the teams are pretty good that we play.”
The Jaguars got a short field on their first possession and needed just a 50-yard drive to take the lead. Blair accounted for 42 of those yards, including a 12-yard touchdown run. North Laurel’s bulldozer also showed some finesse as he kept his balance with a hand on the ground before bouncing into the end zone.
Lincoln County would also work with a short field after a 42-yard kick return. Special teams would be one area the Jaguars would get burned several times.
“We did a poor job of special teams tonight. That’s my fault because we don’t get to practice it a whole lot because you are trying to get so much more stuff in,” Larkey said.
Although they were just 42 yards from the end zone, the Jaguars defense nearly held. Lincoln County kept the drive alive on fourth down. Then on third-and-9, Dalton Godbey connected with Marvin Robinson on a 31-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
“The quarterback has got a good arm. He’s a good football player and Lincoln County has got a good football team,” Larkey said.
It looked like the half might end with the same score before a flurry in the final minutes. Blair scored on a 14-yard run with 1:43 in the half. It took Lincoln County just 22 seconds to answer. Godbey threw a perfect fade down the left sideline to Trevor Gaines for a 70-yard touchdown. North Laurel’s answer came even quicker. Just 12 seconds had rolled off the clock when McFadden broke an 80-yard run for a 21-14 lead.
Lincoln County threatened to tie the score again before halftime. They drove to the 11-yard line before running out of time. A 28-yard field goal attempt to end the half missed.
The Patriots then recovered an onside kick to start the second half as the special teams hurt the Jaguars again. The defense held this time to keep the lead.
The Jaguars then began to pull away. First it was a 75-yard drive led by Blair and capped by his three-yard scoring run. After a Lincoln County punt, North Laurel drove 72 yards with McFadden racing 41 yards on a counter play for a 35-14 lead.
The Patriots weren’t done yet. This time they stayed on the ground for a 60-yard drive. Godbey’s seven-yard run gave them some life at 35-21 with 2:31 in the third quarter. Their celebration ended quickly with Blair breaking a 56-yard touchdown run.