By John Stepp For The Times-Tribune
After a disappointing loss to Pulaski County last week, the North Laurel Jaguars bounced back with a hard-fought 17-7 win against the Southwestern Warriors on Friday. It was the Jaguars’ first district win on the season, and one they weren’t going to let slip away.
North Laurel was particularly motivated for the matchup after Southwestern’s Coach Andy Stephens took shots at the Jaguars’ squad earlier in the week, insinuating that North Laurel’s winning record was because of their schedule.
“We read the newspaper and saw what they said. They didn’t have any respect for us. They said don’t be deceived by North Laurel’s record, but I think they found out that we are a pretty good football team, regardless,” said North Laurel Coach Chris Larkey. “Our defensive coaches did a tremendous job. They definitely outcoached the Southwestern team tonight, and held them to seven points.”
The game was a defensive struggle from the opening kickoff. Punts and turnovers on downs were the theme of the night in the first half, until midway through the second quarter when Southwestern put together a three-play, 38-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown run by Logan Campisano. Campisano had 160 yards rushing on 29 carries for the Warriors. The extra point was good by Southwestern and put them ahead 7-0, with just over eight-minutes to play in the second quarter.
North Laurel answered the Southwestern touchdown with a drive of their own. Michael Nelson returned the ball to the North Laurel 39-yard line on the ensuing kickoff. The Jaguars quickly picked up two first downs and had the ball on the Warriors’ 32-yard line when a roughing-the-passer penalty was called against Southwestern, and moved the ball to the 17-yard line.
A first-down run by Gabe Blair gave the Jaguars the ball on first and goal from seven-yard line. After three straight runs, Blair tried to power his way into the end zone, but the Warriors’ defense was just too much, forcing the Jaguars to turn the ball over on downs, taking over at the one-yard line.
After a disappointing goal line possession, the Jaguars found redemption when a bad snap by Southwestern allowed the North Laurel defense to swallow up Warriors’ quarterback Austin Smiddy for a safety. The defensive score put the Jaguars on the board, and helped cut the Southwestern lead to 7-2, heading into halftime.
Both defenses continued to play tough in the second half, but it was the Jaguars who managed to find the scoreboard. North Laurel’s first scoring drive of the night came midway through the third quarter, when quarterback Michael Nelson found pay dirt with a one-yard sneak. The touchdown was set up by two huge plays, including a 26-yard reception by Cole Lewis, and a 19-yard run by Jake McWhorter. A screen pass from Nelson to Blair gave the Jaguars the two-point conversion and a 10-7 lead. Blair led the North Laurel offense with 108 yards on 25 carries.
The Jaguars took control with just under four minutes left in the game, and had the ball fourth-and-seven from the 13-yard line when Nelson found Lewis in the back of the end zone for what looked like the game-sealing touchdown. However, a holding penalty forced the Jaguars into a fourth-and-seventeen from the 23. Nelson once again dropped back, but somehow scampered 20 yards for the first down. Nelson went in from three-yards out on the next play to put the game away for North Laurel. The extra point by Kennedy was good, and gave the Jaguars the final score of 17-7.
“We’re not a drop-back team. We’re physical and we like to run the ball and be physical, and wear the other team down in the fourth quarter, kind of like what happened tonight,” said Larkey. “Our kids kept being aggressive, and played with a lot of heart. It was their game to win.”