By Chris Parsons/Staff Writer
If you like the running game when it comes to high school football, the playoff match-up between Whitley County (6-4, 2-1) and North Laurel (6-4, 3-2) is the game for you today.
Both teams average more than 260 yards per game on the ground, but both defenses have done a good job of limiting opponents in the run game this season. With that said, something's got to give.
“They're a lot like us, but they're also different,” Whitley County head coach Jim Black said. “They are more of a downhill type running team, while we are a kind of grind it out style.
“They’re a good football team and they have some really good athletes on both sides of the football,” Black added. “The (Michael) Nelson kid is really fast and he does a good job running the ball and then the (Gabe) Blair kid can also hurt you when he gets a chance.”
The bad news for North Laurel is that the action Nelson sees today may be limited, that's if he plays at all. Jaguar head coach Chris Larkey said Nelson suffered an injury during the team's off week and that he's a game-time decision as far as if he's even going to play.
“We had a good time during the bye week and got a lot of stuff done, but Nelson getting hurt was a bad situation,” Larkey said. “The way he got hurt was the worst part about it because it was in a drill that my 7-year-old can do and not get hurt. It's just one of those freak things and now we have to deal with it.”
Despite the talk of injury, Black said he and his coaches would prepare for the Jaguars as if Nelson is going to play as much as he normally would.
“That's what you have to do because you never know with these kids and stuff like that,” Black said.
The biggest difference between the two teams when it comes to the running game is the fact that while the Colonels have a yards-by-committee approach, North Laurel gets the majority of their yards from either Nelson or Blair.
On the season, Nelson has tallied 1,250 yards and 21 touchdowns, while Blair has racked up 1,058 yards and four touchdowns.
For the Colonels, Zack Mills leads the way with 790 yards and five touchdowns. He's followed by Austin Hooper with 540 yards and two touchdowns, Boston Bryant's 506 yards and nine touchdowns and Austin Ysidro with 466 yards and six touchdowns.
With the temperature expected to be in the upper 40s at game time and continually dropping, both coaches agree that the weather could play a factor, but they also said they feel like their teams are ready for the atmosphere that comes with playoff football.
“The kids are excited to be able to play in the cold, because in high school football, that’s when it means something,” Larkey said. “The kids have worked hard all year to get to this type of atmosphere and now they just have to go out and enjoy it.”
Black agreed to a point, but admitted he would be alright personally as long as the weather cooperates.
“I think the kids will be fine either way, but if its rainy and sloppy it will benefit North Laurel,” he said. “I don't mind the cold and I don't mind the rain, but when it's cold and rainy I really don't like it.
“Whatever the elements, both teams will come out and perform and whoever does a better job is going to leave there the winner Friday night,” he added. “We both have pretty good football teams, so it should be a good game.”
Fear "Les" Prediction: Whitley County 35, North Laurel 26