TIMES TRIBUNE (CORBIN, Ky.)
By John Stepp For The Times-Tribune
There may not be a better game in the Bluegrass this Friday night when the North Laurel Jaguars travel to Pulaski County to take on the Maroons.
The Jaguars will take the stiffest defense in Class 5A, giving up just 12 points per game, while Pulaski County brings the highest scoring offense, averaging right at 50 points per game. With both teams entering the game with an undefeated record, the winner will take the driver’s seat in what could be the toughest district in the mountains.
“Pulaski County has the best offense in this part of the state. I wish it was the best defense against the best offense, but I don’t know,” said North Laurel Coach Chris Larkey. “Their offense can’t be stopped. We can just hope to slow it down.”
The Maroons’ high potent offense is led by sophomore quarterback Riley Hall. Hall is tied for the fourth most passing yards in his class, with 1,032 yards, while also throwing for 12 touchdowns. Hall is also a threat running the ball, leading the team with 283 yards on the ground. The Jaguars’ defense must do a good job of containing Hall to have any chance winning the game.
“He has improved a whole lot. He is much better than he was last year,” said Larkey. “I think he has gotten a lot faster this year. He is a really good quarterback and does a great job in that offense. We have to do a good job on him to slow them down.”
Even with the weapons on Pulaski’s side of the ball, the Jaguars will bring their own offensive threats into Friday’s district game. North Laurel’s senior duo of running back Gabe Blair and quarterback Michael Nelson have been difficult to stop this season. Blair leads the Jaguars with 545 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, while Nelson is right behind him with 451 yards and seven touchdowns. Larkey hopes the combination of Blair and Nelson will help keep the ball out of the hands of the Maroons’ offense.
“We have to do a good job running the football. We have to make sure that we can control the clock and keep the ball in our hands,” said Larkey. “If we come out and they hold us on three downs and force us to punt, we’ve done what they wanted us to do. We have to keep the ball and score when we have it.”
Although the Jaguars are one of the best rushing teams in the state, Larkey doesn’t want his offense to be one-dimensional. North Laurel wide receivers Cole Lewis and Jaythus Riley will be expected to make plays when Nelson finds them through the air.
“We don’t want teams to be able to put nine or 10 guys in the box and dare us to throw the football. If we’re going to win big games, we have to be able to throw the ball,” said Larkey. “We have kids who can catch the football and make plays for us. We’ll need them to do that this Friday.”
With two of the top teams in Class 5A and such contrasting styles, it’s difficult to predict who’ll win on Friday. But, whoever pulls it out could possibly go on to take the district title.
“This is a big game for us. It’s the biggest game we’ve played so far,” said Larkey. “They’re a very good team, so we’ll have to show up and play hard.”