TIMES TRIBUNE (CORBIN, Ky.)
By Mitch Howard / The Endzone Staff
HYDEN — If you were looking for Leslie County highlights, you could have watched the kickoff and then slept until the final play. Everything else belonged to North Laurel in Friday’s 57-6 win.
“Our guys knew that Leslie County was probably not the best team we had faced so far. Even though they are a pretty good football team,” North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said. “I think they are better offensively than defensively, but our guys came out focused and they did what a good team is supposed to do.”
The Eagles defense allowed the first touchdown 13 seconds into the game. By the end of the first quarter, North Laurel led 23-0. By halftime the lead stretched to 43-0. On offense, Leslie County managed just five yards rushing and 118 total yards.
“They didn’t let up, which is a sign of the kids getting more mature and just getting better. I think they had fun tonight,” Larkey said.
North Laurel’s one-two punch of Michael Nelson and Gabe Blair may have had fun, but they didn’t have a lot of playing time. With the game in hand early, Nelson carried the ball just twice for 31 yards. Gabe Blair had a pair of carries for 11 yards. Jake McFadden led North Laurel in rushing with 46 yards. McFadden made those yards in one carry, the first play of the game.
“I think we played pretty good offensively and defensively. We worked a lot on our passing game. We’ll definitely have to throw it next game,” Larkey said.
Nelson completed 6-of-7 passes for 104 yards with a touchdown pass to Jaythus Riley.
The Eagles tried to surprise North Laurel with an onside kick to start the game. The Jaguars recovered and Jake McFadden took the first handoff 46 yards for a touchdown. Just 13 seconds into the game the Eagles trailed.
The Eagles ran three plays before Steven Nelson picked off a Kevin Whitaker pass and returned it 40 yards. That set up a six-yard touchdown run for Blair.
Leslie County’s next series was already headed backwards when David Edwards and Austin Baker smothered Whitaker in the end zone for a safety and a 23-0 lead.
The Jaguars were threatening again when a fumble ended the drive. It would be the only series North Laurel did not score. Leslie County pieced together their best drive with the help of pass interference and roughing the passer penalties. The game was getting a bit testy, but Larkey thought his team maintained composure.
“That’s a good sign our kids doing that. That shows they know they have a lot more to play for than just this ball game. They know our real season starts in two weeks against Southwestern in our district,” Larkey said.
Leslie County reached the North Laurel 19-yard line before a fourth-down sack by Baker and Damien Hunt gave North Laurel the ball. The Jaguars next play was a 44-yard pass from Nelson to Cole Lewis with another 15 yards added for a horse collar tackle. Nelson connected with Jaythus Riley for an eight-yard touchdown.
“We have some depth at skill positions. We have some skilled guys that can catch the ball and they can do some stuff with it,” Larkey said.
Leslie County went three-and-out with the resulting punt being returned 50-yards by Michael Nelson for a 36-0 lead. It also meant a continuous running clock the rest of the game.
Another Leslie County punt was returned to the six-yard line by Cole Lewis, although a penalty would move it back to the 43. It only delayed the inevitable with Steven Nelson bolting 30-yards on first down and scoring from one-yard out three plays later.
With the running clock, the Jaguars had just one possession in the third quarter. The 40-yard drive was all carries by Tanner Sharp. Sharp’s seven-yard run made it 50-0.
The North Laurel offense didn’t need to get on the field in the fourth quarter for the Jaguars to add to the lead. McFadden returned an interception 50 yards for a score.
With all North Laurel starters done for the night, Whitaker launched a 23-yard touchdown pass to Blake Asher on the final play of the game to avoid a shutout.
The 57 points scored by North Laurel is the most since a 66-20 win over Jackson County in 2010. It also marks the first time the Jaguars have reached a 51-point margin since 2004 when the Greg Duncum coached team beat Pike County Central by an identical 57-6 score. The largest margin of victory was 63-0 over Knott Central in 2002 by another Duncum coached team.