By Mitch Howard / The Endzone Staff
BEREA — A pair of early turnovers left North Laurel playing from behind in their showdown with Madison Southern. The Eagles took advantage and when Damien Harris finally got loose in the second half they rolled to a 56-28 win.
“I don’t think the score is indicative of how good we are. I think we are better than that,” North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said.
A win would have put North Laurel in the driver’s seat for a No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a home playoff game. Although the Jaguars have already sealed a playoff spot, it looks like it will be on the road.
“We’ve just got to learn to fight through adversity. That’s an old story I guess,” Larkey said.
The game started just the way North Laurel wanted with a 72-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Gabe Blair. The big play of the drive was a 42-yard pass from Michael Nelson to Jaythus Riley. After the first drive North Laurel would struggle to put anything together on offense.
“They took us out of the game plan. We just didn’t pick up the run blocking very good today for some reason. We were confused on stuff and shouldn’t have been,” Larkey said.
Blair did rush for 55 yards in the first half, with half of that coming on the first drive. Take away 72 yards North Laurel tallied on the first possession and they had just 36 the rest of the half. Subtract the 25 yards in penalties and the offense was sitting still after the first drive.
The Eagles' first possession also started well with a 40-yard return by Aaron Sipple. With good starting field position, it didn’t take Madison Southern long to tie the game. The surprise was that Michigan signee Harris was only a portion of the offense and not the feature. It was Casey Dionne with a three-yard run to tie the game with 3:52 in the half. Harris would finish the half with nine carries for 60 yards with a long run of 13 yards.
“We knew we weren’t going to stop him. We just tried to slow him down,” Larkey said. “He’s a good ballplayer. That’s why he is a Division I, four or five-star athlete. That’s why he’s the best player in the state of Kentucky.”
Turnover would be the big reason North Laurel sputtered on offense. Their second possession lasted just two plays before a Michael Nelson pass was picked off by Harris. Harris returned the interception 58 yards to set up a two-yard score by Sipple.
The Jaguars next possession was also just two plays before Nelson fumbled. The Eagles converted twice on third down on the 43-yard drive. Harris skipped in from a yard out for a 21-7 lead with 9:48 in the half.
After a North Laurel punt, Madison Southern struck again on a 38-yard pass to William Dean. The touchdown pass came on fourth-and-eight and made it a 28-7 game.
The half ended with a 47-yard field goal by Keaton Kennedy to make it a 28-10 score at halftime.
While Harris had been kept in check by the North Laurel defense, he would break loose in a big way in the second half. Harris had 72 yards on his first 11 carries of the game. He got almost as much on his 12th carry, a 63-yard touchdown run. Harris angled toward the right sideline on the carry and then cut back to the goal line on the other side of the field forming a perfect “V.”
After a North Laurel punt, the third Madison Southern play was another 63-yard run by Harris. This time he bobbed and weaved through traffic at a high rate of speed for a 42-10 lead.
North Laurel went back to what they do best with seven straight bruising carries by Blair pushing the ball to the one-yard line. Michael Nelson punched it in from there to make it a 42-17 game.
The Eagles second play was a 76-yard dash by Harris. He slapped away one tackler in the backfield and then disappeared in a mass of players. When he emerged he was not going to be caught. Harris finished the night with 282 yards on 15 carries.
North Laurel then turned the ball over on downs. Even though Harris was no longer in the game the result didn’t change. The Eagles second play was a 68-yard touchdown run by Buddy Harrison.
Kennedy added another 47-yard field goal with 4:56 to play. North Laurel closed out the scoring with a six-yard run by Blair with under a minute remaining.
Blair finished the night with 135 yards on 24 carries, a week after running for a school record 318 yards.
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