By John Stepp for The Times Tribune
The North Laurel Jaguars are fielding one of their best teams in recent memory with a 6-1 record on the year along with along being the ninth-ranked team in Class 5A. The only problem the Jaguars face is being in the same district as two other top ten teams in the Pulaski County Maroons (2nd) and Madison Southern Eagles (7th), who North Laurel will take on this Friday.
Not only is Madison Southern one of the top teams in Kentucky, but they also feature one of the best players in the state in junior running back Damien Harris. Harris, who recently committed to play football at the University of Michigan, has rushed for 1,587 yards this year along with 24 touchdowns. While he’ll be the focus of the North Laurel defense this Friday, Chris Larkey admits no one can stop Harris, just hope to contain him.
“No one is going to be able to stop him. Not in high school, not in Kentucky anyways. He’s just that good. He’s going to get his yards,” Larkey said. “We have to make sure we can bottle him up and gang-tackle him. We have to wrap him up and make sure he doesn’t keep busting big plays on us.”
The Jaguars and Eagles each have one loss on the season, with both teams losing to Pulaski County. Because of that lone loss, the game this Friday will essentially be for the runner-up spot in the district, which comes with a first-round playoff game.
“Our boys know that this game means we get to play the first round at home. But, that’s just that first game. The winner of this game plays Harlan County in the first round and the loser will play Pulaski in the first round,” Larkey said. “This game has something riding on it, but it’s not everything. We still have three more games, and we want to finish strong.”
One major concern for the Jaguars is the status of starting quarterback and big time playmaker Michael Nelson. Nelson has been out for two straight weeks for the Jaguars due to a high ankle sprain he suffered before the Pulaski County game.
The North Laurel offense has done a great job during Nelson’s absence, led by senior running back Gabe Blair. Blair rushed for 318 yards against Lincoln County last week, bringing his season total to 1,057. The Jaguars have also gotten help from sophomore Jake McWhorter who rushed for 166 yards a week ago. North Laurel will rely on both in order to score on a stout Eagles’ defense.
“Nelson is still a game-time decision. He has practiced some this week, but is still day-to-day,” Larkey said. “We’re hoping he can go this week, but we don’t want to bring him back until he is completely healthy. Gabe and Jake have done a great job for us, picking up the slack. We’ve really rushed the ball well the last two games.”
Heading into one of their toughest games of the season, the Jaguars are sitting right where they wanted to be. With a playoff berth and winning record both guaranteed, North Laurel will now focus on finishing their season strong, on their way to what they hope is their first playoff win in the school’s history.
“We’ve already accomplished about half of our goals this season. We’ve already made the playoffs. We’re already guaranteed a winning record this year, so it’s been a good season,” Larkey said.