By Les Dixon For the Times-Tribune
What was such a promising season turned into disaster for Chris Larkey's North Laurel Jaguars.
With 17 seniors returning to a team that reached the Class 5A playoffs in 2012, many expected big things out of the Jaguars, and they got just that.
Senior tailback Gabe Blair put up record-breaking numbers, carrying the ball 244 times for 1,673 yards and 21 touchdowns.
He surpassed the 300-yard mark on several occasions during the season, while eclipsing North Laurel's single-season and career rushing record, surpassing marks held by former North Laurel great Brian Durham.
The Jaguars also cruised through regular season play and matched the program's best win total in a season, tying the 1994 district champion squad's win total of eight.
But everything came to a screeching halt last week as injuries took their toll on Larkey's squad.
Despite being a three seed entering its first round match-up in the Class 5A playoffs against Perry Central, many tagged North Laurel the favorite entering the game.
And things looked to be going North Laurel's way early on until the Jaguars lost Blair and offensive lineman Zach Abner for the remainder of the contest after just the fifth play of the game.
Larkey's squad couldn't recover from the injuries, and fell to the Commodores, 28-15.
"We accomplished a lot that we had set out to do in the beginning of the season,” coach Chris Larkey said. "But the big thing is we wanted to win a playoff game and we weren't able to do that.
“We just had the worst luck,” he added. “Things didn't go our way and basically, there you have it. The injuries early on really hurt us. We just didn't respond.
“It's been a struggle,” he added. “But things are heading in the right direction. We have made the playoffs two years in a row and this program hasn't had a lot of success. It's been a very long process, but we are getting there.”
Larkey continues to believe if his team wasn't hit with the rash of injuries against Perry Central, they would still be playing.
“I believe that,” he admitted. “If we didn't have the injuries, there is no doubt that we would still be playing. If Gabe doesn't break his ankle and Michael Nelson is 100 percent, we win that football game.
“Those two guys were two of our main offensive threats, and they were hurt,” Larkey added. “Not having Michael at 100 percent and then losing Gabe and one of our offensive linemen, that hurt as well. It was really hard for our kids to adjust on the fly. But one thing I learned from my dad, never second guess yourself.”
Now Larkey will have to try to figure out how to replace a senior class of 17.
“That's going to be hard to do,” he said. “We're going to have to rebuild in some positions, but it's going to hurt, losing the players we did. The big thing now is we've got to have our kids step up and get in the weight room.
“We've got a good eighth grade class moving up, too," Larkey added. "The program is heading in the right direction. We just need to continue to improve.”
Injuries hurt Jaguars' shot at first-ever playoff win
By Les Dixon For the Times-Tribune
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