By Mitch Howard / The Endzone Staff
NORTH LAUREL — Led by a record-setting performance from Gabe Blair, North Laurel claimed a 42-21 win over South Laurel. Blair rushed for 301 yards and along the way broke the school’s career rushing record of 4,272 yards held by Brian Durham.
“He’s a leader during the games. He just runs so hard. He’s got good vision and good feet. I just wish he was faster and he would probably have the state record,” North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said. “He’s just tough and hard-nosed. He loves to hit and he loves to run the football.”
South Laurel coach Matt Rhymer got his first look at Blair and is probably glad it was his last.
“He runs extremely hard. You pack the box up in there and they break a tackle and there is nobody else back there,” Rhymer said. “I know coach (Larkey) hates to lose him, but he is a senior and they will be losing a great player. Gabe Blairs don’t come around all the time.”
North Laurel has won two straight meetings with their crosstown rival and four of the last five. It didn’t look like much of a game early when North Laurel powered their way to a 28-0 lead. By halftime the Cardinals were within 28-14 and had two chances early in the second half to cut the lead further.
“We stressed all week about the kids having relentless passion and I think they played with passion. They never quit and they never gave up. It meant a lot to them,” Rhymer said.
The first play of the game was a 56-yard run by Blair with Justin Moore making a touchdown -saving tackle. The second play was a five-yard touchdown run by Blair.
After a South Laurel punt, a 60-yard North Laurel drive was capped by an 18-yard run by Blair.
“Our kids came out fired up. They love to read the newspaper and heard we were beatable. They thrive on that,” Larkey said.
North Laurel’s third possession lasted just one play. Michael Nelson bolted 51 yards with a 360-degree spin breaking the final tackle attempt. The Jaguars led 21-0, but on the final play of the first quarter would suffer a setback. Nelson appeared to be 100 percent for the first time since an ankle injury kept him out of two games and limited him last week. He would sprain the same ankle on a short run.
North Laurel would turn the ball over on downs and the Cardinals were driving for the first time before losing a fumble. Jake McFadden broke a 61-yard run for a 28-0 lead, but the Jaguars didn’t seem the same after Nelson’s injury. Larkey thought it may have taken his team’s momentum.
“It certainly appears it did. We were ahead 28-0 then all of the sudden it’s 28-14. I don’t know if our kids got up and then thought it was over. They have to learn it’s never over,” Larkey said.
The Cardinals found some success behind the passing of Jonathan Jenkins. A 26-yard completion to Jacob Hale would set up a four-yard touchdown run by Jenkins.
“We knew they had a really good quarterback that could throw the football. He’s got a heck of an arm,” Larkey said. “We knew they were going to throw it, we just didn’t make the plays.”
On the next drive it was a 37-yard completion to Jared Grubb that led to a 16-yard touchdown by Jenkins. But for Rhymer the passing was a product of needing to make up a lot of points.
“We have to learn how to run block. If you learn how to run block, you can do anything,” Rhymer said. “Tonight we didn’t have anything to lose. We had to make some plays.”
The Cardinals had a chance to cut the lead further before turning the ball over on downs at the North Laurel 10-yard line. They got the ball back on an interception, but stalled at midfield. Logan Medlock blocked the South Laurel punt to give the Jaguars great field position. Six straight runs by Blair included a 2-yard touchdown run for a 35-14 lead.
The Cardinals again went to the air with Jenkins hooking up with Taylor Morris on a 25-yard touchdown with 8:47 to play.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game. It doesn’t matter what the records are, it’s always going to be tough,” Larkey said.
With 5:35 to play, Blair scored his fourth touchdown on a two-yard run. The game ended with South Laurel at the Jaguars three-yard line threatening to score again.
“We were the worst team in the state of Kentucky last year in 5A. I don’t think we are anymore. We are getting better every single day. I see it in practice in their character, their discipline, their structure,” Rhymer said.
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